As a practising osteopath I see the problems that arise as a result of bad posture on a regular basis. Bad posture is aging, but it is much more than a cosmetic problem.
It is a painful problem.
It is a progressive problem.
But it is a problem that can be helped.
What causes bad posture?
Our modern lifestyles of texting, typing and tweeting are creating new conditions such as ‘computer-slump’ and ‘text neck’ in addition to regular neck, shoulder and back pain. Hours spent searching, staring and sending whilst hunched over our modern devices are often a major contribution towards bad posture. Most bad posture develops over a period of time and is the result of an imbalance of the muscles in the spine, particularly those in the neck, upper back and shoulders. This in turns leads to your actual head and spine being held in the wrong alignment. Take a moment and look around you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you can see examples of bad posture before your very own eyes.
What are the effects of a bad posture?
A slouched, hunched over upper back with rounded shoulders and a forward head position, often referred to by doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists as a kyphotic posture, can lead to pain, disc damage and a cocktail of musculoskeletal complaints as your neck and back struggle to cope. Your head almost certainly weighs over 10 pounds and even with a good posture the muscles have to work hard. It is a balancing act but as your shoulders round, your back hunches over and your head moves forward this significantly adds to the work of your muscles and spine and over time can lead to increased pressure and damage to the intervertebral discs and, ultimately, arthritis.
What are the symptoms of bad posture?
Neck pain, headaches, tingling shoulder pain, upper back pain and even lower back pain can all be caused by the stresses and changes in our muscles and joints as they attempt to compensate and cope due to the structural effects of an inefficient and poor posture. Imagine that 42 pound weight being strapped to your head!
Why do I need good posture?
Bad posture is not the only cause of neck and shoulder pain, but by working towards and maintaining a healthy natural efficient posture you are immediately reducing your risk of the pain and long term damage caused by a bad posture. There is plenty of research pointing to the connection between bad posture and back pain.
How can I tell if my work posture is incorrect?
As I stated earlier, most bad posture is the result of an accumulation of bad postural habits. For example, if you are in an office or at home take a look around you and see if anybody is guilty of slumping over their desk or hunched over their smart phone. Then, without moving, concentrate for a moment on your own position. How is it? Another useful trick to get a snap shot of your own posture is to ask someone to take a picture of you when you are deep in concentration at work. You might be shocked at what you see. But do not worry. It can be helped. See the info on my previous blog, Are You Sitting Correctly, for some simple but effective posture guides for the office.
How can I tell if my posture has started to change for the worse?
Well if you are not suffering from neck and shoulder pain that is a good start. There are a number of quick simple tests, the most obvious being to ask someone for an honest opinion or check out that picture or your refection in the mirror.
Here are two simple tests that I believe indicate a muscle imbalance issue that is currently or will lead to spinal postural problems.
Tim’s Test #1 Stand against a wall with your feet no more than 2 inches from the skirting board. Allow the back of your head, shoulders and buttocks to touch the wall. Do not worry if this is not fully possible. Now try to place a flat hand behind your lower back. If you have an inch or two space that’s a good guide that your lower back curve (doctors and osteopaths refer to this as lordosis) is in good shape. If you have less or more space, most people have more, then there might be trouble ahead. An increase in the hollow of your lower back will often be associated with an increased upper back curve, (or, as your doctor would say, kyphosis) and a head forward chicken neck posture.
Now check your neck. If your head can touch the wall with your chin and eyes level then you are most probably in good postural shape. If your head does not touch the wall or you have to lift your chin up to allow the back of your head to touch the wall then you’re heading for trouble.
Tim’s Test #2 Stand relaxed in front of a mirror with your arms hanging naturally beside you. Now look at the position of the back of your hands and thumbs. If your thumbs are starting to point towards each other and your knuckles are facing forward you are most likely suffering from a postural muscle imbalance and heading towards being round shouldered.
How can I improve my posture?
If in doubt ask your osteopath, chiropractor or physio but they will probably agree that posture braces are becoming an increasingly popular aid to improving posture as more and more people suffer and look for ways to improve it. Posture supports help to teach your muscles and spine to keep in the correct natural postural alignment. By wearing a posture correction device it will help lengthen shortened muscles and strengthen weakened muscles. It will probably feel a little strange when you first wear one but persevere. It takes time to get a bad posture so it will take a little time for you to retrain your body but as your spine and muscles adjust and learn the correct alignment from your support you should begin to feel and look better. Many people report an immediate improvement when they put on their new posture support and realise just how bad they had got. Many of my patients with postural problems have benefitted by using one of my posture supports.
Catching poor posture early is the best defence but even if you have started to get into bad habits your posture support will help you unwind those bad habits and learn how to walk tall again.