This is the first of a 2-part series on POSTURE. The writer is concerned that the medical fraternity advises “very little” to “if any at all” on a critical health issue that can cause – sooner or later – serious setbacks to virtually all the various systems of our bodies. In a follow-up article, the writer will provide information on how to check one’s POSTURE and ways and means to improve it.
By Lionel H. Phillips D. O.
The sooner one realizes, or if it is pointed out, that one has poor posture, every effort to correct it, should be a priority. As with a car, should one tire lack sufficient air, or if the steering is pulling to one side or the other and so on, no one will neglect the problem, for sure. The human body requires the same attention.
Posture refers to the alignment of the spine with all its adjoining structures. A person with good posture maintains proper alignment through all sitting, standing and lying positions as well as when active. Poor posture in the form of slouching, hunching or slumping creates misalignment along the spinal column that disrupts and has significant negative implications for nearly all major components of the musculoskeletal system, amongst many other issues.
The skeletal and numerous other ailments that result from bad posture, are the result of misalignment in the spine. When one has a good posture, the upper cervical curve, mid thoracic curve and lower lumbar curve of the spine, balance along an imaginary vertical line that runs down your body from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Proper posture ensures that the spine is neither angled to either side of your body nor exaggerated along any of its natural curves. Improper posture disrupts the alignment of the spine by either over emphasizing one or more of the spinal curves, or by causing horizontal curvature to the spinal column. An improperly aligned spine disrupts alignment of other major bones and muscles, which can cause short-term pain or more long-term structural damage.
Fascia is the tough connective tissue that supports and lubricates every muscle and organ in the human body. However, if poor posture, trauma, or inflammation is involved, the fascia will bind down and create more fascia in response to stress or demand. When fascia binds down, extra pressure is also being placed on nerves, blood vessels, bones, and organs.
The joints in the body are protected by connective tissue designed to cushion and protect the joint during movement. The amount of connective tissue reflects the load bearing properties of the joint. A misaligned spine causes weight or stress to be redistributed throughout the body, so joints that were not intended to bear a significant amount of stress are now required to do so, in order to compensate for poor posture. When joints bear stress beyond their capacity, the result is temporary or long-term pain as well as a degradation of the supportive connective tissue. Bad posture most commonly impacts joints in the spine, knees and shoulders.
The skeletal system coordinates growth with muscle fibers in order to maintain alignment and balance. Some forms of chronic poor posture negatively impact normal growth patterns. For example, bad posture that places added stress on the vertebrae of the spine will cause the connective disks to wear down more quickly, compressing the bones of the spine and causing a loss in height. Bad posture that compresses bones and joints also inhibits muscle fiber growth, leading to reduced strength or stature.
Poor posture is one contributing factor to osteoarthritis, which is the result of the severe degradation of the connective tissue between joints that protects the bones from rubbing together and causing pain. When posture disrupts the load bearing balance of your joints, connective tissue is worn down, exposing bone to bone. Occasionally, affected joints will calcify and fuse nearby bones in unnatural or painful positions, particularly in the spine and hands. Posture is particularly critical for osteoarthritis because the condition often exacerbates already poor posture, which can compound pain. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured or reversed, but the pain can be managed with physical therapy and medication.
Poor posture impairs circulation, which makes it harder for the heart to do its important work. Researchers even showed that the posture people use when they spend time on a smartphone reduces respiratory function. Altogether, this means that bad posture reduces the oxygen that gets to our tissues.
Poor posture is responsible for a number of ailments that can seriously affect your health and happiness. Modern life means that many of us are desk bound, hunched over a computer for hours and hours, commuting to and from work, and spending our evenings sitting even more in order to relax by either watching TV or reading.
It is easy to get into poor habits with our posture, sitting slumped with a rounded lower back may actually feel a lot more comfortable than sitting with a straight back. This is because the body has become accustomed to adopting this position and sitting upright will require much more effort from the supporting muscles. In fact, slouching generally doesn’t cause any discomfort at the time of doing so, but rather takes its toll over time causing tension, straining the muscles and soft tissue.
Permanent poor posture can cause a number of different health and well-being related problems, including one or more of the following:
- Chronic and acute pain of the back, neck, and shoulder
- Knee, hip, and back injuries
- Respiration problems
- Muscle atrophy and weakness
- Digestive problems
- Formation of varicose veins or “spider” veins
- Impingement and nerve compression, as well as Carpal tunnel syndrome.
Increased risk of cardiovascular disease. When poor posture causes changes in the spine alignment, it can lead to blood vessel constriction, which in turn affects nutrient and oxygen supply, resulting in blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.
Back and Neck Pain
Common causes of back and neck pain are poor posture (whether sitting or standing) and repetitive movements. Working from an office desk in a sedentary environment and adapting poor posture is often the culprit of upper and lower back pain. Postures that can cause back and neck problems include – cradling the phone in one ear, sitting lopsided, sitting cross legged, hunching forward and many other incorrect postures.
One of the most frequent causes of neck pain is extending the head and shoulders too far forwards. The head is heavy and its weight in a forward position, can with time, irritate the small facet joints in the neck plus the ligaments and soft tissues. In some cases, this can lead to more serious problems in later life such as degenerative disc disease. This position is usually accompanied by a rounded upper back and forward reaching shoulders, causing shoulder pain as well as further aggravating the neck problem.
Many of us also stand with incorrect posture, either slouching our shoulders and curving our backs, sticking our bottoms out, leaning on one leg or standing with a flat back. All of these can lead to long term discomfort and problems.
If one wants to be active and healthy in later life, maintaining good posture is essential, whereas long term poor posture can result in a permanent curvature of the spine: this puts the spine under a great deal of pressure and may result in a number of conditions and illnesses in later life. Ultimately adopting long term good posture can increase life expectancy and reduce the risk of a number of illnesses and conditions.
Digestion, Internal Organs and Breathing
It should come as no surprise that poor posture constricts internal organs which can cause an array of different issues. Several digestive problems have been attributed to slouched posture, these include; constipation, acid reflux and even hernias in some cases, caused by undue compression of the internal organs and of the abdomen, whereas correct posture permits these organs to maintain their natural position.
When the upper body is rounded or in a slouched position, the rib cage and diaphragm muscles are unable to expand properly. The exchange of oxygen between the lungs and the blood is constricted, meaning the body is required to work harder and more effort is needed to breathe and speak. This can result in feelings of fatigue. The Diaphragm is a muscle which serves two main functions – 1. It is a dome-shaped muscular partition that separates the upper organs from the lower organs. The esophagus, aorta, vena cava, and numerous nerves pass through the diaphragm. 2. It plays a major role in breathing, as its acts as a massage machine, moving down and up as one inhales and exhales, increasing the volume of the thorax and so inflates the lungs.
Adapting certain negative postures can also lead to nerve impingements, lessening the ability of nerves to relay signals between our brain and body. Adequate posture is paramount for many types of exercises and especially for athletes due to an increase in the demand for oxygen. Have you ever seen a top sprinter slouching? The answer is no, definitely not. Many attributes the success of top athletes to their posture or form when running.
Poor Body Language: Your Overall Appearance and How Others View It
We all know that first impressions do count and posture says a lot about one’s personality. A strong confident person will undoubtedly adopt good posture, holding their head up, and standing tall with an open chest. Slumped posture indicates poor body language, this can negatively affect a variety of things.
Correcting Posture Mistakes
The core muscles (in the abdomen, pelvic floor, and back) help support the spine.
Posture is just one component of our health, but it can have a surprisingly big impact. Poor alignment or posture is one of the leading causes of neck pain, back pain and headaches. Hunching over and looking down puts extra strain on the posterior muscles of the neck to keep the head from falling forward. This can put strain on the muscles, causing headaches.
Poor posture can negatively impact our ability to sleep. If our muscular system is not aligned properly, we won’t be able to fully relax.
Misalignment can also end up affecting one’s feet. Bad posture can create foot pain and may not allow one to wear their favorite shoes.
Workouts and recovery times. Certain muscles will become overworked with poor posture and will fatigue too quickly, leading to more pain during and after a workout because the body will become inflamed and irritated. When one slouches, not only do the shoulders move forward, but it also flatten out the lower back, which will eventually lead to pain.
The nerves that come out from the neck and upper back control muscle function and sensations of the arms, wrists, and hands. The nerves can get pinched from the spine (bone or discs) or from chronically tight muscles, which will lead to carpal-tunnel-type numbness, tingling, or pain throughout the arm.
Altered posture effects how the internal organs function. This has a profound effect on how the intestines move food matter through the system. Bad posture slows the movement of the intestines.
Poor posture can cause breathing problems. Once again, slouching can prevent the diaphragm from fully expanding, which affects its ability to help the lungs contract and release with each breath. One’s ability to breathe properly is at its most optimal when the body is in proper alignment.
Force acting on Lumber spine L3 – In Different Situations in a Person Weighing 70kg
Posture or Movement Force in kg
Lying on back, using traction of 30 kg. 10
Lying on back, legs straight 30
Upright standing position 70
Trunk lean to one side 95
Sitting unsupported 100
Isometric Exercises for Muscles of Abdominal Wall 110
Inclined forward leaning of 200 120
Sit-up from supine position, legs straight 175
Lifting a 20 kg. load, back straight 175
Lifting a 20 kg. load, back straight and Knees bent 210
Lifting a 20 kg. load, from a forward lean, Legs straight 340
Internal support of the spinal column. It can be compared with the mechanical action of a rugby ball located in the abdominal cavity. See illustration above.
Biomechanical Foundations in the Prevention of Injuries to the Spinal Lumber Region during Physical Exercise Training – 1985.
Presented by – Lionel H. Phillips D. O. CEO & MD – Global Fitness Services Limited.
About the writer:
Lionel Phillips is a Doctor of Osteopathy (1975), an International Fitness & Health Instructor, Consultant and Lecturer. He has researched and designed ‘The Needs & Functions of the Human Body’ as an educational subject for inclusion in all School Curriculums World-Wide. A past Federation Member and Israel Liaison Representative of IHRSA (International, Health & Racquet Sports club Association) and member of their worldwide “Panel of Experts”, Phillips is a recipient of the “Prime Ministers Award of Merit” (PM Menachem Begin).
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)