The Head Retraction: Make It Better!

By: Keith Fernandes

Should I retract my head?

The head retraction is an essential part of neck therapy. It is a normal, physiological movement, that is prescribed around the world, by physicians, physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors and more, due to its ability to help.

There are many variations of it. I tell my patients, do not do an exercise unless your therapist tells you WHY. And how often, and with what technique. And again, WHY! Same goes if a health professional advises you NOT to do an exercise, or sleep on your stomach, or look up and back with your neck…. There are no, across the board, unsafe movements or positions, but some CAN be harmful depending on your condition. Reasons should be given so that you the client can be empowered with the understanding, and be able to ultimately trouble shoot movements / exercises on your own, and more independently manage your symptoms. So do not perform repeated head retractions unless it has been prescribed to you, as a remedial exercise.

Let’s assume you have been prescribed this movement to do on a regular basis. I have noticed 2 common techniques taught. One, with the head in a neutral position, and another, with a flexion direction added in. They have different indications.

Neck Retraction

Forward Head Posture

Common Issues with correct performance of The Head Retraction

Adding flexion or extension to the movement. Some clients are unknowingly doing this!

Strategies Improve Your Head Retraction and Tips:

  • Set your gaze forward, if your gaze goes up or down, so will your chin.
  • Imagine wearing a baseball cap, the brim should not move down as you retract.
  • Imagine a drawer closing, it moves straight back, not up or down.
  • Imagine smelly cheese – and move your head back away from it.
  • Use your hand on the chin to guide you, I know, it can be a weird movement to learn – this can make it easier!
  • Breathe during, generally a good tip with most exercises.
  • Don’t try it in the car when driving, as the headrest will often stop the head movement back and then you end up flexing downwards.
  • Look in the mirror, ensure that you are indeed retracting the head and not just tipping back from your mid back.

Position, Force and Time Enhancements of The Head Retraction

  • Can be done in sitting, standing, supine over the edge of a table or bed or resting propped up on your forearms.
  • Can be done with self overpressure on the chin, mobilization from a therapist, and with a strap around the neck, to provide more effective segmental motion.
  • Can be held for 0.5 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on the issue and response to movement.
Keith Fernandes

Keith Fernandes

Physiotherapist - PT, BScPT, HBScKIN, Cred.MDT, CYT, MCPA

Keith is a Registered Physiotherapist, whose focus and passion is treating head and neck pathology. He has taught this movement to students, clients of all ages, from 5 years to 90 years of age, to physicians, neurologists, dentists, and to a room full of PT’s. It does take a few minutes of practice, but is worth the efforts. He provides patient care at the west end location (Wallace Avenue) of Synergy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Centre. To book with Keith by clicking HERE  or by calling 416-703-3525.

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