Just how important is posture?
The answer to this question is lengthy and could be covered by multiple blogs. Posture effects so many aspects of our lives. Our posture effects our own mental and emotional states. But, don’t take my word for it, listen to Amy Cuddy’s your body language may shape who you are. Posture effects the laying down and removing of bone (Wolff’s Law) through gravitational forces. Your habitual posture can create a lengthening and weakening of one side of spinal musculature and ligaments, with concurrent shortening and tightening of the other (as seen in the image below. You have heard that we create first impressions in the blink of an eye. The way you present yourself to the world, through your posture tells others how you feel about yourself. How we chose to sit or stand effects breathing. Breathing effects how much oxygen our brain receives, thereby, effecting cognition. These effects of posture are multifactorial and can cascade into many other aspects of our lives, as you can see.
Posture is so vitally important to how we function, feel, age, and interact with the world around us, that I feel compelled to make a broad and detailed description of its impact. I will make an attempt to cover these in segments, without so much detail as to make reading this become a daunting chore.
Poor posture or slouching forward causes the head, weighing about 12 pounds to put undue pressure on joints of the spine below. The increase is exponential, evidence states from 40-60 pounds of increased pressure, depending on how far forward you carry your head. This added tension on the spine initiates a process known as Wolff’s Law. This law states that gravitational forces on bone, stimulate bone to increase and build bone or to take away or reduce bone density. This idea should bring to mind osteoporosis, which is essentially a greater effect of taking away bone “resorption,” over laying down of bone “deposition.” Bone deposition is not stimulated by the typical sedentary habits of sitting for work, sitting in the car, sitting at home watching TV or reading, or perusing social media on your phone. Bone resorption over takes bone deposition and bones become thinner overall. Being in a hunched over position, which most people adopt while sitting, causes an increase in the pressure on the anterior or front of the spine vertebrae, as well as an increase pressure on the facets, and a decrease on the posterior side of the vertebrae. You can see the effect of this in x-rays as increased bone density in the facets, and the anterior portion of the vertebrae, often with bony spurring. With age and loss of bone density, the vertebrae can collapse, furthering the hunch. This hunch can become a permanent configuration of your spine called kyphosis. You may have seen elderly folks who can not straighten their spine and are bent over from the mid back. Their eyes have to look up because their head and neck cannot. All these forces cause neck pain and stiffness.
Equally important as the bone effects of poor posture, are the lengthening and weakening of the musculature and ligaments on the convex side of the curves, with a concurrent shortening and tightening of the concave side. Even with mild slouching, as seen below, this can occur. This condition is commonly called upper cross syndrome. This is just plain poor posture and it can worsen over time. The head and neck become more anterior or forward, putting greater strain on joints of the spine, providing smaller opening for the exiting nerves of the spinal cord, often resulting in impingement of these cervical nerves. Numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers are a sign of this impingement.
Often along with upper cross syndrome from slumping forward, comes lower cross syndrome, which is the same general slackening and tightening, only in the lower body (or lumbopelvic spine). The glute and abdominal muscles become weak and stretched out with a tightening of the spinal erector and hip flexor muscles. One of the main jobs of the glutes, is to stabilize the pelvis and lumbar spine. With the concurrent tightening of the erector spinae, this can be very problematic for ongoing lower back pain and problems.
Collapsing of the thoracic or mid back and chest with slumping, compresses the rib cage and lungs and inhibits the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the large dome shaped muscle underneath the lungs. The diaphragm expands and helps fill the lungs with air. Shallow breathing is usually only from the upper chest and often facilitates the accessory muscles, which should not be used in normal breathing. Shallow breathing reduces oxygenation throughout the body, can make you feel tired and brain foggy. Having a stooping posture with anterior head carriage can also induce mouth breathing. Mouth breathing is not good for many reasons and is worthy of blog of its own.
Slouching or shrinking induces neurotransmitters that tell us we are not worthy, cause a sense of inferiority, increase stress hormones, and tell others that we are not comfortable in our own skin. Changing our body position by standing straighter, taller and taking up more space can improve our mood, our cognitive processes, and provide signals to others that we are confident and open.
I hope I have given you enough reasons to practice standing and sitting with better posture. In addition to feeling better, happier, and more confident, you could have a reduction in the number of chiropractic visits you need, or you could come in just for a visit and to tell me how well you are doing.