Poor Posture is everywhere…
A few weeks before publishing this blog, I was interviewed on liquid lunch (link), having a follow-up conversation about poor posture – I had run out of time to dive into the more significant consequences, so some elements of this article are excerpts from here. I had previously been interviewed in May 2018 after returning from Italy, and in a state of relaxing and incessant people watching, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of poor postures in so many different categories of people – from millennials to seniors! I’ve written about posture numerous times (in 2014 and a video share in 2015), as it’s an important topic.
Here’s the simple truth – posture is often ignored, even though we have ALL been told by a parent or family member to sit or stand taller – and every time I bring it up in a group setting, people ALWAYS sit up or stand up taller in my presence… but only for moments at a time.
And while it continues to be ignored by millions of people (I’m definitely NOT saying that everyone ignores their posture – there are amazing people that give it attention constantly), a disconnect grows between the actual health-related consequences of neglecting one’s posture beyond the visual aspect; just as there is a disconnect around teeth with respect to brushing and flossing properly to prevent more than just a yellowing smile once we realize lots of health issues are influenced and unfortunately enhanced through poor dental health.
Bad Posture a Pandemic – what’s causing slouching worldwide?
And while it’s hard to say how many people in Canada or even North America are in a state of poor posture – a census on posture could unfortunately take on a very subjective measure if not carefully measured – the reality is that with some simple guidelines, anyone can begin to see the number of people around them constantly who does not meet a scientific standard of “good posture”; in my professional and personal opinion, poor posture is on a pandemic (worldwide) scale, whether during sitting, standing, or even while sleeping.
So what’s to blame for poor posture, and more importantly, what are the significant health impacts from, let’s just call it “ignoring” one’s posture? Before seeing the list, here are a few vectors demonstrating the basis for an optimal spine, a.k.a. the true backbone of optimal posture.
At the easiest level, ignoring how you sit, stand, workout, and carry yourself day to day is culprit number one! And there are various actions, events and influences that cause people to take on even worse postures:
- not being shown or inspired from an early age to use chairs or couches or desks properly
- for young women (more often):
- being emotionally traumatized at a young age creating a caved in posture (image) OR
- at the onset of puberty, being physically self conscious and continuing to have the LEFT vs Right posture in the image
- bullying – can lead to a defensive posture in boys and girls, leading to the same caved forward posture
- physical traumas – such as car accidents and whiplash injury forces can cascade internal soft tissues to compensate and deviate from normal
- modelling family members and friends to fit in or be accepted can also lead to poorly formed and maintained postures
Consequences of poor posture beyond “looking bad”
Here’s the bigger problem – in earlier years, people recognize their poor posture, they may know it doesn’t “look good”, but they may not have any idea of the impact taking place beyond a visual level. Here’s a refresher: Inside our marvelous human bodies lies multiple systems controlling every function that we’ve got – breathing, blood flow, digestion, movement etc. At our core is the Central Nervous system – our brain and spinal cord – enabling all other functions by sending messages out to ALL parts of the body, every organ, cell, tissue, muscle.
When poor postures become more fixed, and the spine is essentially stuck and fixated in specific regions and spinal levels, we get pressure developing on the spinal cord, and quite possibly on the spinal nerves connecting cord to body. So what, right? Wrong.
Have a look – a simplified chart showing the intimate connections of all spinal nerves to our key organs and more – so it there is nerve pressure, and by way of research this means there is lessened communication between the brain and its organs, there can be dysfunction and dis-ease (lack of ease) at particular organs and tissues, not withstanding muscles and joints.
In a study performed in 2005, poor and accentuated rib cage posture (referred to and known as hyperkyphosis) was used to measure declining health and physical function in an older community dwelling population. Have a read for yourself – they found that the more rounded, slouched, and poorer the posture, the worse physical function the study participants had over time; particularly notable is the poor cardiac and pulmonary (heart and lungs) function associated with both the decreased rib cage size and neurological interference and deficits.
And therein lies one of the biggest issues – people often slowly and almost ignorantly notice their posture decline, yet it happens as such a slow and tedious rate it often goes unnoticed until it is seemingly too late to protect, prevent or do anything substantial about it.
More serious consequences of ignoring your posture
Here’s an additional SHORT list of other commonly occurring symptoms and “consequences” so to speak of poor posture: **note – this list is compiled based upon clinical anecdotal evidence – based upon people entering my clinic, and my colleague’s clinics, where x-rays were taken and analyzed for each specific person with a symptom/complaint/condition on this list – BEST measures were taken to eliminate other contributing factors ***
- headaches – migraines, tension, cluster, others too
- blurred or unclear vision
- shoulder pain and chronic neck tension
- asthma, bronchitis
- mid-back pain
- altered heart function and irregular blood pressure (low and high)
- difficulty breathing – shortness of breath
- digestive issues ranging from constant acid reflux to a “simple” sense of sluggish motility through the gastric tract and small intestine
- weak and painful low back problems including loss of balance and stability
It may certainly seem like an interesting and surprising list – I encourage you to ask questions or leave comments to learn more – the basis is simply, logical, just not often thought about.
Sure, many many people recognize their poor posture, and work to remedy it. Efforts put into yoga therapy or pilates exercises can both have a positive impact on improving postural strength; simply paying attention to one’s posture more consistently, whether in active thought or in digital reminder messages (heck, I check myself out in reflective windows and mirrors ALL the time, simply to check-in with my optimal posture just to ensure I’m doing well!) or other methods you may want to utilize.
A personal trainer can do wonders for people, as can a boosted self-esteem, whether through self-lead activities, personal development courses, psychotherapists or life coaches.
Sometimes however, there are limitations. When the spine loses optimal alignment (always confirmed via standing x-rays in best practices), certain joints, spinal regions or whole spinal curves can be stuck, and will hit limitations in these great, popular and often successful therapies and modalities. Other techniques and therapies like Rolfing appear to have questionable backgrounds according to some scientific communities, but seek to work with the hardened soft tissues of the body to release restrictions and free up postural possibilities in the human frame.
Addressing posture with spine corrective techniques
But here’s the kicker – personally I’ve had the experience and honour to see people coming from ALL different experiences, backgrounds and attempts to improve and protect their posture. There exists a commonality amongst most people who attempt to improve their posture, yet fall short – spinal misalignments – specific and chronically restricted and “stuck” spinal vetebrae, whose relationship with their “friends” above or below, is restricted or distorted enough to cause lingering and resistant neurological deficits, and therefore health issues that appear to be as a result of “simple bad posture”.
Where we are different, is in the analysis, detection and correction of these problems. And we get superb results 99% of the time in allowing and enabling people’s other postural improvement efforts to “skyrocket” and create more impressive impact by releasing and correcting the spinal segments.
Help yourself to improve your posture – it’s a must
If you’re not sure that you’ve got these spinal issues, or you’re simply not ready to have a chiropractor check out your spine – I urge you to try the above mentioned therapies and activities – find a personal trainer, work on muscle weakness and core areas needing some attention, try Restorative (Yin) yoga, or Pilates; look into some emotional-based therapy if you even slightly suspect your emotions trigger a poor posture; setup a close network of friends who want to help keep each other accountable for better postural habits and awareness more consistently.
Check yourself out in the mirror, from the side, from the front, walk past windows and have a glance – but check your posture – how high your head sits above and on TOP of your shoulders (as opposed to lingering in front of them – which is never a good sign), how much you can tuck and contract your abdominal muscles, contract your leg muscles, clench your butt muscles, these are all valid, positive, and useful posture enhancing techniques on your own.
WebMD and the Mayo Clinic are clearly aware of the benefits from good posture, and the impact of not maintaining it. In summary, it’s easy to dismiss your posture as something you either can’t change, you don’t notice, or is all about genetics (yup, some people still think this way unfortunately – ask more questions to understand the heredity of spinal patterns that trump the heredity of posture or health problems). Your better posture is in your hands to improve and protect, but don’t negate outside help for this, or think for a moment that it’s too late – often it’s far from the truth!