Stand Straight: It Pays

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posture vertebrae
28 Feb 2018

Posture!  We’ve all heard people (our parents and teachers) telling us to sit up and not to slouch.  How important is good posture?  It’s very important.  Poor posture isn’t just something that might be unsightly, it has many health and medical ramifications.  We’ve all been caught slouching, hunching over our computer, or just not sitting/standing up straight. We know it’s not good for us, yet the majority of us don’t take any action to improve it. But what about the negative effects of bad posture?

In poor, or faulty, posture (postural dysfunction), there is an imperfect relationship among various skeletal structures of the body, and this may produce strain on the body’s supporting framework (Britnell et al. 2005). With faulty posture, the body is balanced less efficiently over its base of support. Therefore, any restriction, imbalance or misalignment of the musculoskeletal structures will have an adverse effect on the efficiency of movement.

The most important two things to look for are lordosis (abnormal inward or forward curvature of the vertebral column) and kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine, causing a hunchback). A postural assessment provides a good means of identifying a client’s postural concerns and establishing a proper exercise regimen to begin correcting the abnormalities.

If our body is out of its optimal alignment for extended periods of time, the muscles eventually adapt by either shortening or lengthening depending on their position. Prolonged misalignment adversely affects nerve tissue and function and that results in muscle imbalances, which can have a number of health consequences. The particular health issues caused by posture dysfunction tend to vary amongst the population.

The results of poor posture

Sore Muscles, spinal curvature, blood vessel constriction and nerve constriction can all result from poor posture.  Soreness is the most common effect.  As you slouch, the muscles have to work harder to keep the spine stabilized and protected. The extra work on these muscles can cause muscle tightness and fatigue. This can lead to chronic issues with tight and sore muscles from the neck all the way down to the lower back. Two major muscle groups that bare the brunt of these issues are the flexors and extensors of the trunk, which allow you to bend forward and lift objects.

Spinal Curvature is one of the most serious issues that can occur with bad posture.  The human spine has four natural curves that make up an “s” shape. When bad posture is practiced, the spine can experience pressure, slowly influencing the spine curves to change their positions. The spine is specifically designed to help absorb shock and keep you balanced, but as the spinal position changes, this ability becomes compromised.

As bad posture changes the alignment of the spine, the resulting movement can cause problems with blood vessel constriction. The constriction of the blood vessels around the spine can cut off blood supply to the cells of the muscles, which can affect nutrient and oxygen supply. Blood vessel constriction can also raise your chances of clot formation and issues with deep vein thrombosis.   Nerve Constriction is also one of the most common side effects of bad posture. As the spine changes in shape, the resulting movements or subluxations can put pressure on the surrounding spinal nerves. Because the nerves that connect to the spine come from all over the body, these pinched nerves can not only cause neck and back pain but may also cause pain in other unrelated areas of the body.

Sitting at your desk

When sitting, many people slouch, relaxing the postural muscles of the back. This tends to transfer weight and stress to the body’s ligamentous tissues, which can become permanently lengthened if the stress persists for extended periods of time. This lengthening can lead to instability around the joints that the ligaments normally stabilize.

Proper sitting posture requires awareness and effort. Keep your head up over the shoulders, with the back maintaining its three natural curves. Eyes should be level with the top portion of the monitor. Shoulders are back and relaxed, with elbows resting at the side. Thighs and forearms are perpendicular to the floor, with feet planted on the ground. The monitor should be 18–30 inches away and directly in front of the head. Take regular breaks when sitting for prolonged periods.

Important postural exercises

Some of the most important muscle to work and build are not in your back at all.  I am referring to the muscles in the abdominal area.  It is the ab muscles that hold your spinal cord erect.  It is important to include several varieties of ab exercises in your routine.  They should be done at least 3 times a week.

Planks are great exercises to strengthen many muscles which include those that stabilize our back.  Pushups or, if planks and pushups are difficult for you at this stage, then modified pushups work upper back muscle.

There are two bones in your back called the scapulae also known as the shoulder blade.  Learn how to properly contract them towards each other.   

Are your hamstring muscles (the ones behind your upper legs) tight?  If they are, they are pulling down on your lower back and playing havoc with your posture also.  That and weak abdominal muscles are key causes for lower back pain.  Stretch your hamstrings daily.  There are many ways to stretch them so find 2 or 3 and implement them.

Walk!  And when you walk, make sure you are looking ahead.  Find something to focus on (a street sign, a tree, a house or building) and don’t let your head drop.  This will help your maintain proper posture while walking and improve your posture overall.  When you get really good at all of these exercise, you can walk while doing repeated scapular contractions while holding your stomach muscle in, and really get benefit!

Posture exercises are unfortunately overlooked by many people when formulating an exercise routine.  It is important to include it.  Just as important, be conscious of your posture all day long.  We have become a sedentary society both at the work place and in learning.  We sit, and sit some more and sit some more.  Be aware of your posture as you are working and get up from your desk for a few minutes every half hour.  This will allow you to straighten out and stop the possible slouching.  It gives you the chance to sit down again and check your postural position vis-à-vis your computer screen and keyboard.  Here’s a really important benefit of getting up every 30 minutes that has nothing to do with your posture—you will also cut your risk of heart attack and stroke considerably just by moving around for a few minutes before sitting down again.

Keeping your posture in the picture will help prevent pain, will keep you feeling awake and alert, will increase your circulation, will keep your joints stable and will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.” 

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.