No one sets out to have bad posture. However, everyday we are doing repetitive actions and activities that have a negative effect on our posture. If you're not taking steps to counteract activities that lead to it, you will likely end up with a forward head, rounded shoulders, and a list of painful areas including headaches, neck pain, upper back pain, and mid back pain.
That's just the beginning, though.
Since your posture is really a window into the health of your spine, you can have underlying problems that take longer to show up in the form of symptoms. This means you can have a problem for a long time before you ever have pain or any other warning that something negative is happening to your spine. Pain is almost always the last thing to show up, and that's why many patients will express they "didn't do anything" before their symptoms started affecting their lives.
The most extreme version of bad posture, hyperkyphosis, also known as "The Dowager's Hump" has been shown to lead to a higher mortality rate. According to one study: "Kyphosis is common in older individuals, increases risk for fracture and mortality, and is associated with impaired physical performance, health, and quality of life." This means that not only will you not look or feel your best, you're likely to die sooner due to the effects of bad posture.
We either end up with spinal problems due to some kind of trauma (car accident, fall) or due to a small, subtle, yet repetitive activity (sitting at a computer, using a laptop on the couch, looking at your phone). Looking at your computer for 5 minutes is not a big deal. Any negative effect on your spine would be quickly negated by a good posture activity. But it you are at a computer for 40-50 hours every week, then get in that same posture when you drive & eat, then stare at your phone for a few more hours... well, it can really add up. It's really a miracle your posture isn't worse!
Sometimes, people try to have good posture. They sit up straight and find that it's uncomfortable, even painful to maintain the right position. If your spine is misaligned or just stuck, you're not able to get into the right position without pain. Good posture should feel good and bad posture should feel bad. If you feel more comfortable in a twisted or awkward position, chance are you are not in good alignment.
Start small by looking for things in your day that you know are imbalanced. Too much forward, not enough back. Too much right, not enough left, etc. Are your computer monitors up high enough? Are you using multiple screens equally? Are you sitting in a twisted position on the couch each night? Are you sitting in front of a computer all day at work, then on your laptop at night, then off to spin class for even more hunching over?
Without a significant spinal trauma, it's the imbalances that will cause your posture problem. In addition to doing the right exercises, stretches, and chiropractic care, you'll need to maintain a watchful eye during your daily activities. It's not usually a blatant bad posture activity that gets you. It will be something simple. Something small. Something you do for long periods or repetitively that will change the muscles around your spine, then your spine itself. The good news is, doing good activities consistently will have a positive effect as well!
Most people take care of the big, most obvious bad posture-causing issues. They try to have a good chair and sit up straight when they can. They miss the less obvious, but just as dangerous imbalanced activities. If you continue to have the same problem over and over again, chances are you're doing something that's causing the issue. The activity will be something you do a lot or you do it for extended periods. Really pay attention for a few days and you'll find it. Enlist the help of others to watch when you're doing something with less than an ideal position and they can help you too.
Not looking your best doesn't feel great. Being in pain is no fun at all. But that's not the worst way bad posture impacts your health. The underlying condition being caused by how you sit and stand is spinal degeneration. Spinal degeneration goes by a lot of names; spinal decay, osteoarthritis, bone spurs, "wear and tear" arthritis. You don't want it, and it's very avoidable.
All of these conditions refer to an area of your spine that has stopped moving, leading to a lack of blood flow to the spinal disc, which leads to a degenerative process in the vertebral joints and the discs. The process can narrow the opening for the nerves, leading to permanent changes in the spine! There is a point of no return when the best we can do for you is help you feel better, not make any lasting changes.
Taking action as soon as possible can make all the difference in how quickly you see results and how much you can expect to change with your chiropractic adjustments and your posture-improving efforts. Spinal degeneration is a permanent change to your spine, but it does take years to build up. Once you've started to see evidence on x-ray, it's progressed and you shouldn't wait anymore.
If you notice your symptoms tend to get worse as the day goes on, your pain is probably caused by your daily activities and bad posture. Here are some common symptoms related to bad posture:
Specifically headaches that are at the back of the head and sometimes the sides of the head. These tension and stress-related headaches are due to the weight of your head not being directly over your spine. When your head (which weighs about 10 lbs) is forward, every inch increases the pressure on your neck by an additional 10 lbs. Carrying that extra weight all day causes strain on the muscles and leads to headaches.
Just as with posture-related headaches, the extra weight of the head pulls and strains on the neck. This increases the amount of forces and pressure on the spinal joints and discs. Inflammation in the muscles and discs causes swelling and pain. If you notice that the pain is frequently just on one side, not only is your head forward, you are spending too much time with your head turned in just one direction (also a posture issue).
Depending on how much your head goes forward, the weight will increase the pressure on the upper back as well. This leads to upper back pain and tightness in the traps and shoulders. You may find yourself rubbing your upper back throughout the day to increase circulation and relax the muscles just to get some relief.
Pain in the middle of your back is a frequent symptom related to bad posture. Sometimes referred to as "burning between the shoulder blades" this symptom is directly related to how you sit and stand all day. The rounding of your shoulders has caused the spine to lock up and the muscles in the back to weaken. The only way they can keep you upright is to spasm, which leads to the burning pain.
Even low back pain can be related to bad posture. While it may not be directly related to a forward head, the bad posture of standing on one leg or sitting on one leg during the day can lead to hip tightness, pelvis misalignment, and eventually pain in the lower back. As a part of our initial posture evaluation, we check the neck, upper back, middle back, and lower back for imbalances.
While neck pain, back pain, and headaches are the most obvious side effects of working at a desk job, spending your day sitting also increases your risk for developing several other diseases.
Look for any areas of your daily activities that are imbalanced. Make changes where you can and start to sit up straight when looking at your phone. You want to eliminate or modify as many uneven activities as possible, then add in the right stretches and exercises to counteract the activities you can't change.
For people that sit at a computer all day, the front of your neck, chest, and shoulders are all too tight. In the lower back area, the hamstrings and hip rotators bear the brunt of sitting all day. Spending time consistently stretching these areas will make a huge difference in how you feel. However, patients most commonly stretch the back of their neck, which is already too long and does not need to be stretched. Stretching muscles that are already too long will just make your posture worse.
Most overlooked by patients trying to improve posture is adding in exercises. They usually just try to remember to sit up straight or by using some sort of brace or support. Instead, focus on building strength in the muscles that are becoming weaker due to bad posture. Your rhomboid muscles, your teres minor muscle, and your paraspinals all tend to be weaker when sitting at a computer all day.
In our office, we recommend posture exercises and will help you get more specific in the exercises you're doing for your problem. Posture exercises should be done consistently for best results as a part of a chiropractic care plan.
Chiropractic care is designed to locate the areas of your spine that are stuck, misaligned, or both. Finding these misalignments and restoring function is key to better health and a better functioning nervous system. From a posture standpoint, I'm not sure you can attain good posture without making sure your spine is working as it should. Covering up the symptoms of bad posture with medications won't change how you look and feel long-term. You have to work on the structure in order to make a lasting change.
At CORE Chiropractic, we utilize several adjusting techniques to help you get the best, most comfortable results possible. We take spinal x-rays to make sure you don't have any underlying conditions that will stop us from working on you, but also to establish a baseline as to where you are at the beginning of care. Later we can do follow up x-rays to show you how much has improved.
Let CORE Chiropractic help you get back on track with personalized chiropractic care, stretching recommendations and a custom treatment plan. Call today for your consultation, or schedule an appointment online.