Do you Have Pigeon Head?

I’ve been teaching fitness for over 20 years and have had hundreds of bodies under my hands so it’s safe to say that I see many of the same patterns all the time.  By far the most common complaint is “that annoying knot” at the base of neck between the shoulder blades. 

We’ve all got it.  It’s often a result of stress or sleeping “funny” (stomach sleepers … stop it now!)  But one of the biggest culprits is forward head posture, sometimes called “Pigeon Head.” Think about it… most of us spend hours looking down at a computer, a phone, or a book. The neck muscles and soft tissues responsible for holding the head up and the shoulders back are overworked and losing the battle!

They get overstretched, fatigued and may go into spasm.  Over time this forms the “knot” or clump of adhesions that’s tender to the touch.  Then other muscles get involved (like the upper traps) and your shoulders and neck become a ball of tension.

Not only does pain keep your body from optimal movement but a tight muscle is a weak one. Muscles are designed to contract and release. That’s what they do! Tense, overly contracted or spasmed muscles cannot do their thing. They need to be released in order to work properly. In the same light, muscles or tissues that are overstretched are also weak. They need to be put back into their proper length to work optimally.

What’s the Solution?

Before you go downing painkillers or muscle relaxers, here’s what to do:

1.Release the Knot.

A good therapist can get to the adhesions or trigger points with massage or myo-fascial release techniques. For a more affordable option (a couple of dollars) that you can do yourself:

2.Address the Problem, Not the Symptom.

If you don’t fix your posture, the problem will return again and again. While the tendency is to stay away from the area of pain, strengthening the neck and upper back muscles is exactly what you need.

“Anti – Pigeon Head”

(Works: Neck & Back muscles that hold up the head!)

1.Stand or sit comfortably with your sitz bones grounded and your spine lifted.

2.Interlace your fingers and place them against the back of your head.

3.Press the back of your head gently into your hands for a count of ten. You should feel the muscles in the back of your neck fire! Try not to lift your chin. In fact – if you are lengthening properly, your chin should drop slightly.

4.Repeat 3 times – 10 second press with 5 second relax.

5.Perform the same movement with hands on your forehead…. pressing the head into the hands to fire up the front of the neck.

6.Perform the exercise twice more – this time placing one hand on each side of the head, just over your ear and pressing sideways into your hand. You will feel the muscles in each side of your neck fire up!

This exercise can also be done against a wall; using a ball, yoga brick, or towel; or with the Magic Circle against your head. Try this exercise 2-3x a week to help reduce your Pigeon Head.

So if you keep getting that annoying knot, pay attention to your posture and train yourself to eliminate forward or Pigeon Head. Techniques like Pilates, Alexander, and even targeted strength training will focus on putting your spine into optimal alignment. Your neck and shoulders will thank you; you will stand taller; and you’ll save a bunch on massage and chiropractic! 

Muscles of the Neck and Shoulders

There are three layers of muscles in the back and neck (both posterior and anterior) that extend and straighten spine, and regulate the position of the head on the spine.

In Anatomy of Movement by Blondine Calais-Germain (An absolute must-have book for movement teachers!) she sums up the function and dysfunction of these muscle layers:

“All the deep and intermediate back and neck muscles… function constantly (and usually subconsciously) to maintain the correct position of the head and spine while we are walking, sitting, etc.  They are physiologically adapted to work in relays, i.e., take turns contracting so that they do not fatigue under normal conditions. We typically become aware of them only when something goes wrong.”