Poor posture – do you have it and what causes it

Poor posture is often blamed for contributing to aches and pains in the back, neck and shoulders. But how do you know if you have poor posture, what causes it and how does it affect your health?

You might like to check yourself out or instead you could make an appointment for a posture check-up at Sundial. We have new digital postural analysis software. This is free to people who Like our Sundial Facebook page here.

It is easy to see if you have poor posture by looking in the mirror. Stand in a normal relaxed posture with your eyes closed. Often we correct our posture as soon as we look in the mirror so we don’t get the true picture. Slowly open you eyes. If one shoulder is higher than the other or your head is tilted off to one side then you posture is not ideal. Is you weight shifted over to one side more than the other? Is one hand rotated more or is one foot turned out?

All these clues tell our chiropractors and physio’s a lot about the dysfunction in your muscles and joints. It may surprise you to know that we automatically check this as you walk in to the treatment room. This information can tell us where the joints are under the greatest pressure and which muscles are not working correctly.

It is harder to view yourself from the side but more important than just looking from the front as this affects pressure on the spine far more. If you can, get someone to take a photo of you from the side. Your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle should all be aligned. If not, you have a postural problem.

The spine is a bit like a tent pole with the muscles acting as the guy ropes keeping it up. If the tension in the guy ropes is strong and equal on all sides then the tent pole is straight and rigid – if not then it wobbles around. There are two main causes of postural defects

  1. muscle imbalance
  2. bone shape

Poor Posture Caused By Muscle Imbalance

If the muscles on one side of your spine are weaker than on the other side, your spine will lean in that direction. There are different causes of muscle weakness. Sometimes it is lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle, sometimes it is a spinal problem affecting the nerves that supply those muscles. For instance, lots of computer work with your chin poking forward to view the screen will activate the muscles at the back of the neck and switch off the muscles at the front leading to a postural imbalance. Laptop screens are particularly bad as they are so low.

If your head is carried too far forward your muscles have to work harder to keep your head up. Think of holding a heavy weight close to your body. If you extend your arms holding it away from your body the muscle in you shoulders and arms have to work a lot harder. Your head weighs about 7% of your body weight so for the average 70kg (11st) man that is a whopping 6kg (14lbs). If your posture forces your head forward this load can easily double. Weeks and months of this posture slowly change the strength and length of  the muscles and put pressure on the spinal joints at the top and bottom of the neck. The delicate neck joints then get more wear and tear and stiffen due to extra loading. These abnormal forces on the joints eventually cause neck and shoulder pain and possibly headaches.

Poor Posture Caused By Bone Shape

Back PainThe other main cause of posture problems is one that you can not do much about. Sometimes the bony architecture of the body causes poor posture. For example a scoliosis, or side-ways curve of the spine. This is more common in women and often starts showing in the teens. No-one yet knows why. The bones are pulled out of shape and the curve is permanent. In extreme case surgery is needed to stop the problem worsening.

Another form of bone shape causing poor posture is the gradual stoop of old age. The vertebrae in the mid back (thoracic spine) are wedged shaped with the longer edge at the back. The discs are wedged the other way so cancelling the effect out. As we get older though the discs shrivel up a bit and the cancelling effect is decreased leading to a stoop as the shoulders become more rounded.

Effects of Poor Posture

Poor posture causes aches and pains in the back, neck and shoulders and can lead to headaches and accelerated wear and tear on the joints. This maybe a contributing factor to osteo-arthritis.  After twenty to thirty minutes of slouching the muscles fatigue and can’t hold your weight anymore. This stretches the ligaments that hold the joints together leading to further joint trouble.

As your shoulders become more rounded  your shoulder joints become more restricted making it difficult to reach up. Your neck and low back lose flexibility making things like gardening and driving troublesome. As your chest and tummy become compressed your breathing can become affected as your diaphragm cannot work properly. Blood circulation and digestion may also suffer.

In part two next week we will look at how you can improve your posture