Posture is the most overlooked aspect of health care today.
Poor posture should be investigated as a root cause or, at the very least, a major contributing factor in many modern day health problems. This includes pulmonary and cardiac diseases, chronic gut dysfunction and depression.
Almost 80% of Americans have experienced back pain at one point or another in their lives. A whopping 25% - 35% of our population is experiencing pain at this very moment. The vast majority of back pain has no trauma involved. It occurs from no one cause but is a result of years, even decades of poor posture and posture related issues.
Back pain takes years to develop, it's not just one thing.
Unfortunately, seeking short term solutions for long term problems have serious side-effects. As I'm sure you have read, we have an urgent opioid epidemic in the U.S., much of it to treat back pain. Scary. Within the last few months, the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society have issued new guidelines for treating back related pain conditions.
Let’s look at how bad posture contributes to disease processes, how it affects our overall health and quality of life. Posture affects our organs.
LUNGS Try this: hunch over your keyboard or phone and with your chin close to your chest, take a deep breath. Now, sit up tall, lift your chest and take another deep breath. The difference is clear. Slouching causes us to breathe shallowly, filling only the very upper part of our lungs. Here is how bad posture relates to lung issues:
- Chronic shallow breathing causes us to lose some of our lung function. We were built to use the entire lung, just not the upper apexes.
- Reduced oxygen intake creates fatigue and lowers the amount of oxygen-rich blood in circulation.
- Shallow breathing creates an increase of carbon dioxide. If we don't inhale optimally, we certainly don't exhale as we should. We have excess CO2 circulating. CO2 is toxic to the body and can make us dizzy and cause muscle cramping.
- Oxygen starvation leads to a suppressed immune system, reduced vitality, and premature aging.
- Fast, shallow breathing causes anxiety, sleep disorders, stomach upset, visual problems, chest pain and heart palpitations.
- Shallow breathing increases the duration of chest colds which can develop into pneumonia.
HEART Many people think cancer is the biggest killer of people. Not true. It is heart disease. Chronic poor posture affects the heart in these ways:
- Slouching has a direct effect on your blood pressure. Your heart must work harder to mitigate the increased load from the chest wall.
- Constant forward posture can lead to an aortic diastolic murmur, this is a potentially lethal irregularity in the heart beat.
- Tight, short muscles in the chest can give you chest pain, this could lead to angina.
- Years of making the heart work harder than it was designed can lead to premature death.
intended. The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy. Cells in idle muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin so the pancreas produces more insulin than necessary, increasing the risk of diabetes.
GI TRACT Take a look down at your belly. Is it ballooning and spreading out? Now sit up tall, raise your chest and look down. You see an improvement, right? Sitting or standing with your stomach dumping forward puts an upward pressure on your diaphragm, stomach, and intestines. To make room for the enlarged girth your ribs flare up and wing out. Eventually, the rib flare becomes normal. So much for a slim silhouette.
- Posture affects the way you digest food. Increased pressure impairs blood flow to the stomach which creates sluggish digestion.
- Increased pressure in the gut and slower digestion leads to malabsorption, particularly carbohydrates. This can lead to obesity.
- Poor posture decreases the size of the area around the stomach causing bloat.
- Gas gets trapped in the intestines that decrease functional lower digestion. The result: constipation.
- Chronic constipation is bad for both the bowel and colon.
- Although not the GI tract, bad posture puts undue pressure on the bladder and the nerve plexus to the urinary tract. This can both distend the bladder developing “urgency” or mishaps.
PANCREAS The pancreas is located in the left upper quadrant of the torso. It too experiences increased pressure with poor posture and does not function as efficiently as it could or would if it were not compressed. The pancreas produces insulin and regulates the level of insulin in the body, the blood/sugar ratio. This level, if too high, indicates diabetes or pre-diabetes. Diabetes is a no-joke health condition brought on by genetics (Type I) or lifestyle (Type II). Most Americans have Type II diabetes and there are 29 million of us checking our blood/sugar levels multiple times every day and must take either oral or injectable insulin to stay alive.
CIRCULATION Poor posture can both slow circulation in some areas while increasing it in others. For an example: faster circulation through the chambers of the heart, but slow circulation to the legs. Improper circulation causes problems in the eyes, increases spider veins, decreases circulation to the skin - that means premature wrinkling. Poor circulation to the arms and legs means muscle weakness - fast moving, oxygenated blood is fuel to muscles.
MUSCULOSKELETAL This refers to the muscles and bones. When we think about it, we usually associate it with pain. But not so fast. Our bodies were meant to be balanced, front to back, side to side and top to bottom. When we move, the muscles, joints, and bones are designed to move in a symphony. Each doing their job.
In the most simplistic form, body movement starts with a nerve impulse to a muscle. This impulse causes the muscle to twitch. A muscle twitch is a muscle contraction which, in turn, pulls a tendon (or ligament). Tendons are attached to bones. Voila! skeletal movement. Bones interface with each other by joints capsules. Joint capsules allow for movement AND create the necessary space for movement to occur between the two adjacent bones.
Poor posture creates an improper balance between the joints and between the muscles themselves. For movement, agonist muscles, or muscles that produce or begin the movement through a contraction, allow for motion. To stop this movement, we have antagonist muscles, which provide equally and exactly opposite motion. The antagonist stops the movement.
A good example of this is swinging a racket. The muscles in the chest and deltoids, the agonists, start the swing. The antagonist muscles are the rotator cuff muscles, (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres, and subscapularis), stop the swing. This is the body’s beautiful way to protect the shoulder from dislocating or tearing. The same scenario occurs with all movement, from taking a walk to rolling over in bed.
Poor posture causes some muscles to overreact, while others do nothing. This explains how muscles and joints begin to degenerate: frequent, minor and un-sensed micro-tears in the muscles, joints, and tendons. Unbalances surrounding the spine put excessive load on the discs.It starts gradually until a critical mass is reached and the alarm is signaled: PAIN PAIN PAIN!
If your body is not balanced, you create excess wear and tear on other areas of your body like in the hips, knees and neck.
Anything wrong with this?
So many people stand just like this man, with most of his weight on one leg. This pose is not because one leg is longer than the other, that is rare. It's not about the leg. It is coming from the back and sacroiliac joint. Look a little closer and you can see his hips are pushed to the left, the right knee is bent. Standing like this puts a disproportional load on his left hip, left knee, and torques his low back. It is no surprise hip replacement surgeries are one-third more common today than having your appendix removed.
MENTAL HEALTH I recently wrote a blog about how posture affects hormone levels. Read it here. We know, for example, a cowering posture decreases testosterone and increases cortisol - the stress hormone.
Everyone wants to look taller and thinner, who wants to look like a sack of potatoes sitting behind their desk? Great posture improves confidence, improved confidence decreases depression.
VERY SIMPLE, CONSISTENT PRACTICE CAN CHANGE YOUR POSTURE
Having great posture is more than just pulling your shoulder back. It is a combination of an aligned, flexible spine, good core muscles and practice that changes your posture. And the beauty of it, acquiring and maintaining correct posture is not complicated.
Here are three things you can do to begin your transformation today.
1. Align your spine. You may need some help on this but here is a great first step. Stand against a wall with your heels, pelvis, back, shoulders and head flat against the wall. Arms out to the side and slide them up the wall until they are shoulder height. Do not move any other part of you. Practice this a lot, like 3 - 5 times a day, whenever you have the chance.
2. Increase your flexibility. Again, initially you may need some help with this but here is a quick stretch to help. Lay flat on your back with your arms out about 45 degrees, palms up. Lift only your chest off the floor and hold for a count of 5. Repeat 3 times.
3. Get some core on. One of the-most-perfect exercises for core strength is planks. Remember to keep your back as flat and possible and do not stick your butt up. Try to hold this position for 1 minute. If you can't hold it for that long, just bend your knees to the floor, wait for 10 seconds and pop right back up into the plank. Planks increase core strength rapidly!
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