In the past few weeks I have seen numerous athletes with jaw pain or TMJd (temporomandibular joint dysfunction- Google it for more general knowledge). In all cases, they had chronic forward head positioning particularly exacerbated with heavy exertion. We see this often with athletes, the head juts forward (aka chicken neck) when concentration is diverted towards completing the movement (particularly with overhead movements and lifts such as the overhead squat, snatch, pull-ups, throwing). This forward head protrusion is also clearly a postural fault seen in daily life, particularly those deskbound at work. There is some research to support head-neck posturing and jaw dysfunction. And most importantly, forward head/ugly posture decreases your attractiveness (but you probably already knew that, Quasimodo).

Anatomically,  a forward head changes the line of pull of several muscles (the infrahyoids) running from the mandible (lower jaw bone) to the sternum and even the scapula. This new alignment causes an altered pull on the jaw jamming up the delicate, sensitive disk within the TMJ. So if we’re adding poor control of the head (forward head posture is an open, unstable position) to an altered and weak jaw alignment, the result is an ugly – literally – and painful TMJ.  The real problem is that coaches and athletes are NOT paying nearly enough attention to head position and it’s impact on the jaw. Especially when athletes are biting down hard, adding huge compressive loads to a poor jaw position in an effort to close the circuit and gain stability.
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Note the complex nature of the head, jaw, and neck relationship. Courtesy: portlandtmjclinic.com – a great resource by the way

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Loss of packed neck position altering jaw alignment and control

Here’s the fix:

  • Prioritize and pay attention to head-neck positioning! You should have a packed neck position (meaning chin back and down, vertebrae stacked on top of each other) at all times – honestly I cannot think of reason where a forward head, chicken neck necessary. This is especially important during lifts as chicken necking to finish out a pull-up is not helping you, amigo.
  • The jaw’s natural resting position is slightly open (lips closed) with the tongue gently on the roof of the mouth behind the teeth (say “nine” and you’ve found it).
  • Ask yourself or your athlete while practicing a movement or skill…How are the head and jaw positioned? We need to be more positionally aware people!

As with prior posts on prioritizing spinal position, proper head and jaw position is crucial to avoid injury and stabilize movements.

Thoughts? What are some cues you use to fix the dreaded chicken neck position?

– Seth

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