Two things are generally true about people today. We move less and we sit more. From our work to our pastimes (binge-watching anyone?), we are often stationary from long increments of time. Much of that time is spent sitting. Our proclivity for being in a chair does more than contribute to a widening waistline.
What we do and how we hold ourselves play a direct role in the pain we feel. It can even impact the effectiveness of our organs.
What Is Good Posture?
Maybe a parent or grandparent would often tell you to sit up straight or to stop slouching. These childhood admonishments were actually pretty good advice. The key to good posture lies in the alignment of the spine.
Your spinal alignment and posture will improve if you keep these three things in mind:
- Your spine has three natural curves. They are at your neck (cervical spine), your mid-back (thoracic spine), and your low back (lumbar spine). You should aim to maintain, not increase, these natural curves.
- Your head should be above your shoulders. Many people tend to allow their head to drift forward of their shoulders almost like a turtle reaches its head out of its shell.
- Your shoulders should be above your hips. Slouching and rounding your shoulder forward of the hips is common.
How Bad Posture Affects Our Systems
Sitting, standing, and walking with poor alignment may not create an immediate problem. Most of its effects are felt over time. Posture also tends to worsen over time, leading to compressed organs and other problems.
Some of the systems affected by posture include the following:
- Digestive System. When you slouch your abdominal organs and digestive tract are squeezed. This affects your metabolism and your ability to digest food. The involuntary muscles are unable to relax and contract as they are designed to in coordinated movements. You are at increased risk of acid reflux and sluggish digestion.
- Circulatory System: Compression is again at the “heart” of the problem. Compressed blood vessels and arteries can make the heart work harder and can lead to high blood pressure. Blood vessel constriction increased the risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.
- Respiratory System. The telltale forward head and rounded shoulders limit the ribcage’s ability to properly expand and contract with each breath. This can create more shallow breaths. Your lungs struggle to fully inflate. Your diaphragm, your primary muscle for breathing, becomes weaker as well as secondary muscles around your collarbone that aid respiration. One function of effective breathing is to expel carbon dioxide. When you are unable to breathe fully, carbon dioxide and other toxins can begin to build up.
- Nervous System: As the spine and other bones change their position due to the long-term effects of bad posture, the skeletal system begins to come into contact with surrounding nerves and “pinch” them. These pinched nerves can cause neck and back pain, but they can also cause pain in seemingly unrelated areas of the body.
Why Bad Posture Causes Pain
A common complaint today is chronic back pain. Back pain and joint pain are among the top reasons people go to a doctor. Improper alignment of the spine, head, and shoulders can result in disc degeneration from the increased pressure placed on the spine. When the discs between your vertebrae (the bones of the spine) bulge or slip or begin to disintegrate, pain is sure to follow. Neck and back pain as well as tightness around the shoulders can lead to debilitating pain.
That improper alignment also causes pain because it creates a muscular imbalance. Some muscles become stretched while others become tight. Pain throughout the body can result.
Physical Therapy Can Improve Your Posture
Poor posture might be a factor in the chronic pain you feel when you get out of bed and move throughout your day. Fortunately, you do not have to live resigned to taking pain pills. Physical therapy may be able to help.
By strengthening muscles that have become weak over time and creating more flexibility in the muscles that have tightened, you can live a more full and active life. You are never too old to correct your posture.
At ProFysio Physical Therapy, our specialists can use a variety of techniques to improve the health of your spine. Contact us today by calling (732) 812-5200 or by using our online form. Less pain is possible.