Over the weekend, I met some new friends, and the topic turned to posture very quickly once they found out that I was a chiropractor, and when I found out that they were IT specialists. They began to make fun of themselves about the ridiculous positions in which they sit while working at the computer. Until that moment, I had just visualized poor posture as sitting with the head forward, rounded shoulders, and hunched upper back. After speaking with this group, a new picture popped into my head regarding bad posture. One demonstrated leaning so far back in his chair with his leg propped up on a waste basket he may has well have been lying down. Another was slanting to the side and turning in a way that only a contortionist could have achieved. How you position yourself with your posture, comfortable or not, you may be taking years off your life….or just making those years a bit more painful.
As many may have already heard in the mainstream news, sitting throughout the day can reduce one’s life expectancy. How does this happen? Well the obvious reason is that sitting is sedentary…and a sedentary lifestyle increases risks for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. This may be old news, and quite frankly, common sense, but is it sitting alone that decreases one’s lifespan? It definitely contributes to the problem, and when you add poor posture to this equation, we have an even more complete picture. In a slouched position, the body closes down on our vital organs (i.e. lungs, heart, stomach, etc.). Think about doing this for hours upon hours, days upon days, and years upon years of our lives. Our bodies cannot function at full capacity while we are crushing our organs. When you think about the lungs alone in our slumped position we cannot take a full breath because our ribs do not have the room to expand fully and our diaphragm cannot contract completely to allow maximum inhalation. This decreases the amount of oxygen that every cell in our body requires to function. Would you think brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, intestines, muscles, and skin need oxygen to ideally function? With our bodies being depleted of the optimal level of oxygen all of our body systems break down at a faster rate.
In addition to positioning effecting our internal organ function, poor posture can have an enormous effect on our musculoskeletal system creating an environment for having headaches, neck and upper back pain, low back pain, elbow pain, and carpal tunnel just to name a few. The hunched positioning of the upper body is clinically described as hyper-kyphosis, an increase in the curvature of the upper back, forward head with
the chin jutting out, and rounded shoulders. Are you familiar with this picture; maybe when you are driving, sitting at the computer, watching television, texting, or working on a tablet? Having hyper-kyphosis places a forward pull on our neck and upper back structures creating a tug of war between our stronger front muscles and weaker upper back muscles. The front muscles win this war 9.9 times out of 10. Now think about having this constant strain on our neck and upper back while spending the many hours of our day in poor posture. The end result is neck and upper back muscle tightness, trigger points (“knots”), headaches, and pain.
Now that I have your attention, I will give you some tips on how to achieve proper posture. 1.) SIT UP STRAIGHT! I know that most of you are hearing your parent’s or grandparent’s voice in your head right now, and wishing that you took their advice long ago. This sounds simple enough, but it really is the first step. 2.) Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down towards your lower back. Think about bringing your shoulders away from your ears. 3.) Keep your feet flat on the floor when sitting at your desk. If you suffer from low back pain, putting your feet up on a foot stand (about 6 inches) has been shown to reduce the pressure in the low back by about 50%. 4.) Sit on the edge of your chair so that you can fit your fist in-between the back of your knee and the seat of your chair. 5) If you are working at a computer, it is best to have the middle or even better, the bottom of the computer screen at your eye level so that you are looking straight or up a bit. This helps the natural position of the curve in your neck. In addition, your keyboard should be positioned so that your elbows are bent about 100°.
Enjoy adding years to your life, and decreasing the amount of pain you have throughout your day. Stay tuned for my next blog on posture and children.
(This three part blog written by Crystal Surprenant, MS, DC)