Ever since we were little our mothers have been telling us to sit tall, stand up straight, and quit slouching. When talking about posture, perhaps the old adage “mother knows best” rings true. Posture is the position in which we hold our bodies while sitting, standing, or lying down. “Good posture” is any position that places the least amount of stress/strain on the joints, muscles, and ligaments of the body. Typically, an individual will develop “poor posture” after years of repetitive movements, and positions, which cause our supporting muscles to become weak and tight.
One of the most common posture faults is a forward head carriage, where the head and chin jut outward from the body. This posture is often seen in individuals who spend an extended period of time at a computer or desk. According to Dr. Kapandji, author of “The Physiology of the Joints,” it is estimated that for every inch of forward head posture, the spine experiences an additional ten pounds of stress. Due to the result of altered biomechanics, an individual with forward head posture will also often exhibit rounded shoulders and a decreased ability to extend through the mid-to-upper back. As these issues compound, and compensations develop, the individual may develop scapular pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, and/or headaches.
Another well documented side-effect of “poor posture” is that an individual’s vital lung capacity may be reduced by up to as much as 30%. This decrease in respiration is often attributed to the inhibition of the front neck muscles. As the head shifts forward the normal curve of the neck is often straightened, or lost. This change decreases the ability of the neck muscles to properly lift the upper ribs while inhaling. Without this lifting action, the lungs are unable to fully expand. These muscles are commonly known as accessory muscles, and are used primarily while exerting ourselves through physical labor, household chores, or sports. Due to this lack of lung capacity, we are often left depleted of oxygen and unable to efficiently produce energy for the body’s processes, including proper muscle contraction.
While the research on lower back pressure in different postures varies study to study, a widely cited study performed by Dr. Nachemson showed that pressure on the discs of the lumbar spine (lower back) increased as a person went from lying down, to standing, to sitting, to bending forward at the waist. With sitting eliciting nearly 40% more pressure on the lower back than standing, it is easy to understand why even today’s children experience spinal discomfort. With the increased use of technological devices, kids are spending more and more hours sitting behind a screen, and less and less hours actively “playing.” This new obsession with technology, coupled with hours of sitting in classrooms and doing homework, has created a great potential for posture related complaints. Typically as a person sits for extended periods they develop tight hip flexors and hamstrings, while the gluts and abdominals become weak and unused. As these muscles become weaker and weaker the body is unable to efficiently handle the stress of daily activities. This stress will inevitably present itself as pain and inflammation.
The increase in modern technology has also contributed to an increased prevalence in carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, “texting thumb,” and “text neck.” In fact, it is estimated that the average person sends 657 text messages per month, per phone. One tip to help avoid “text neck” is to raise your mobile device to eye level when sending or receiving texts. This will help you to avoid the rounded posture commonly seen today, and alleviate much of the strain placed on the neck and shoulders.