February 7, 2012
Did you know that having a good posture is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body? Numerous experts are now stating that posture is not just about looking good, but could be the key to better health. According to an article in the American Journal of Pain Management, “Posture effects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to hormonal production.
For the past fifteen years, I’ve been working with patients to improve their health by improving their posture. With the increasing popularity of smart phones and tablets, long hours at the computer, and a more sedentary modern lifestyle, poor posture is becoming a major health problem. The challenge that many people are starting to face is that poor posture can lead to cervical disc injuries, shoulder injuries, arthritis, breathing problems, hormonal imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, depression, and an impaired immune function.
Why does our posture affect our health so dramatically? The first thing to realize is that when we are standing up we have both the effects of gravity and the weight of our head pushing down on our bodies all day long. The thoracic cages’ job is to protect the vital organs, be an anchor for muscles, and a support system for the head and neck. If the head is directly over the thoracic cage, it will put the least amount of strain on the thoracic area and vital organs. The minute the head pulls forward you now have not only extra strain on the thoracic cage, organs inside of it, but your risk of neck and shoulder injury greatly increases. This type of posture is now being labeled Forward Head Syndrome. Unfortunately, this forward head posture is becoming the normal posture for most people, especially in our younger population.
What are the harmful effects of Forward Head Syndrome? Rene Cailliet, M.D., director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Southern California, wrote about the effects of forward head syndrome in his book “Rejuvenation Strategy.” According to his book:
- Incorrect head positioning leads to improper spinal function.
- The head in forward posture can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine.
- Forward head posture results in loss of vital lung capacity. In fact, lung capacity is depleted by as much as 30 percent. Loss of lung capacity leads to heart and blood vascular problems.
- The entire gastrointestinal system is affected, particularly the large intestine. Loss of good bowel peristaltic function and evacuation is a common condition that comes with forward head posture and loss of spinal lordotic curves.
- Forward head posture causes an increase in discomfort and pain. Freedom of motion in the first four cervical vertebrae is a major source of stimuli that causes production of endorphins in production many otherwise non-painful sensations are experienced as pain.
- Forward head posture causes loss of healthy spine-body motion. The entire body becomes rigid as the range of motion lessens. Soon, one becomes hunched.
Recently, Dr. Roger Sperry, a Nobel Prize recipient for brain research, demonstrated that 90% of the energy output of the brain is used in relating the physical body to gravity. Only 10% of the brain’s energy is used for thinking, metabolism, and healing. If you want to improve your body and brain’s performance start with better posture.
What can you do to improve your posture?
1. Be aware
The very first step is to be aware of your posture. I recently had a teenager in my practice who went off to the Marines. When he left he had the slouched appearance that we see in many teenagers. Three months later, when he came back into my office, he was standing tall, shoulders back ,and his head held high. I asked him what he did to change his posture and he said that they were constantly on him to stand up straight. It was an incredible example of how quickly you can retrain your body by just being aware.
2. Stretch your front side and strengthen your back
What is happening to most people who sit at computers today, is that the chest muscles are shortening and the upper back muscles are lengthening. This causes the shoulders to round and the head to come forward. Start stretching your chest muscles by standing in a door way with your arms on either side and lean in. Similar to the picture to the right. Daily stretches to the chest muscles will stop them from pulling your shoulders forward. At the same time, doing upper back exercises, like seated rows, to strengthen your rhomboids will help hold those shoulders back.
3. Try a yoga class
Yoga is a great place to start if you are serious about changing your posture. What I love about yoga is that it stretches and strengthens the muscles at the same time. If you are going to yoga specifically for posture changes, let your instructor know. A good instructor will assist you throughout the class and make sure you are doing the poses correctly.
4. Go see your chiropractor
Nothing will change your posture as dramatically as a chiropractic adjustment. You can stretch and strengthen the muscles repetitively, but if the spine is not moving properly the muscles are more likely to fall back into their spasmed position. The spine has two jobs: protect the nervous system and be an anchor for muscles. Your nervous system is the mechanism in which your brain and body communicate. Just like Dr. Calliet noticed in his study, when your posture changes it damages the spine and nervous tissue the spine protects. Bad posture will ultimately lead to a poorly functioning nervous system. The key to great spinal health and great posture, starts with an evaluation from a chiropractor who specializes in posture retraining.
So stand tall, go see your chiropractor, try a yoga class, do your stretches and you will make sure your posture doesn’t take you down the path of bad health.