Hands up if you’ve ever been yelled at to “Stop slouching!” or to “Stand up Straight!”. What if I told you that a slouchy posture is not a result of laziness but a body that is dysfunctional? What if I told you that it wasn’t your job to hold your body up but that it is the job of your body to hold you up?
Throughout our lives, from the minute we are conceived in fact, we start experiencing stress. In utero most of our stress comes indirectly from the stressors acting upon our mother, be it her bad sitting posture at work causing a cramped environment for us to grow and develop or perhaps a mom that sneaks the occasional puff on a cigarette; to financial stresses or perhaps relationship stress. Mom and baby are so closely entwined that a baby developing in an environment of stress can develop a nervous system that is primed for defence.
Then comes labour and delivery. Now this process is stressful for both mom and baby at the best of times but to add to this, its estimated that around 90 percent of deliveries experience some form of intervention. Whether it’s an emergency C-section or an epidural, a vacuum extraction or forceps, etc. these interventions are often necessary to get mom and baby through a very difficult and complex process, with many things that can go wrong. However they usually cause further stress than is normal in an “uneventful” delivery as they mess with the natural order of things. Labour and delivery are a perfectly designed process and each part is to run without deviation or intervention for us to have the best start at life.
So now you’re out in the world and you’re learning to lift your head, roll onto your tummy, sit, crawl and maybe even walk someday. Throughout that process you have very little control of your clumsy body and you’re bound to make a wrong move at some point or another: a fall on your bum, a bump on the head, you name it. These little events cause movement of our bones within our body, sometimes into directions our bodies are incapable of retrieving and resetting, creating dysfunction. Now what? Well your body is an incredibly intelligent thing designed to help you keep functioning, so it compensates by moving other bones into whatever direction it needs to counteract this “primary” dysfunction.
Now our bodies are incredibly adaptable and one compensation, unless resulting from major trauma, is most likely not going to mess you up enough to even be noticed. However as we continue through life the stressors keep coming: a fall out of a tree, a broken arm, a schooling career spent crammed into a desk, bent over text books, playing rugby for the first team and taking a couple big tackles on the weekend, all the while your body is adapting and compensating around layers and layers of single events (some small and some not so small) that cause bones to move into positions the body can’t correct. But you’re young and springy, made of rubber, your body bounces back from sleeping on the floor at your mate’s place on the weekends, hours spent hunched over a phone or laptop and who needs to warm up or stretch before working out? You’re invincible!
Now you finish school and manage to drag yourself, hungover, through four years at university hitting the books harder than ever before but now you can’t be bothered to sit at a desk anymore, studying on the bed is just so much more comfy. Wait a second what was that? A tweak in the lower back while racking up the plates on the bar at Crossfit to impress Courtney, a migraine while you sit studying for the big maths final, perhaps you catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop window and “Woah! Why is your head so far forward? Why are your shoulders so rounded?” Better cram some pilates or yoga into your workout routine.
Congrats you’ve finished Uni with a degree and you’re off to that nice corner office with a view, where you spend 8-12 hrs a day crammed behind another desk staring into a computer screen, “Who has time to look at the view anymore?”. Finally it’s the weekend. Time to seize the opportunity to get a workout in or maybe just get to that storage room you’ve been meaning to tidy out for like three months now and as you bend over to pick up the box of dusty old rollerblades, skipping ropes and yoga mats your back goes into a spasm. As you come off the tennis court after thrashing your mate, Steve, 6-love you feel a little niggle in your shoulder, “Ah man it’ll be gone tomorrow”.
This is a sample of the stories heard in Chiropractic offices around the world all day, everyday.
Our posture is primarily a result of the position of our bones and joints, especially those in our spine. When the bones of our bodies are moved by outside forces into positions the body cannot self-correct our body begins to compensate by shifting other bones out of position. This leads to an amalgamation of misplaced and misaligned bones. These malpositions are termed subluxations and are usually visible on x-ray to the trained eye. How our spine is stacked is crucial to us standing up straight and co-ordination of complex movements, which are due to a combination of reflex and cognitive sensori-motor control. That is to say we need both our conscious and subconscious mind to maintain our centre of gravity, both at rest and while performing complex tasks such as dancing or surfing. The level of cognitive contribution to posture and co-ordination depends on the complexity of the task being performed.
This means that, at rest our body should be holding us up and not the other way around.
The more complex or unfamiliar the task the more we rely on our senses, such as sight and touch, for balance and co-ordination. However, the more we perform a specific task the less our conscious mind contributes to that task and the more “reflexic” our performance of that task becomes. This phenomenon may be better known as muscle memory or motor memory and in fact has less to do with our muscles and more to do with our joints. Movement quality has been shown to relate to posture in children, adults and even in the elderly. Children with low levels of motor development have been shown to be at increased risk of delays in cognitive development, particularly in the areas of memory and processing speed. Look around and you will see people with slumped and rounded shoulders, heads protruding forward like a tortoise poking his head out of his shell. Could this be related to our society’s general decrease in physical activity and increased time spent hunched over a laptop or cell phone with our arms stretched out in front of us, our heads bowed low, and our core switched off? A major factor in the link between poor posture and reduced motor control is the fact that flexion in any part of the spine has been shown to increase tension in the entire spinal cord. This increased tension has been shown to reduce the spine’s load bearing capabilities as well as increasing risk of injury, reduced electrical activity and metabolism in nerves and even degeneration and eventual cell death within the spinal cord.
Now that some of the science of good posture has been dealt with, let’s talk about what this all means for me and you in our daily lives. Posture is defined as the position our bodies hold while seated, standing, lying down or in dynamic movement and it is controlled by numerous muscles, tendons and ligaments and joints and as mentioned previously is largely unconscious. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) lists some benefits of good posture:
- Helps maintain joint alignment, preventing abnormal wearing of joint surfaces, which leads to degenerative joint diseases such as Osteoarthritis.
- Reduces the strain on the ligaments holding spinal joints together
- Allows efficient muscle function, thereby reducing the likelihood of fatigue
- Helps prevent back and muscle pain due to muscle strains and overuse injuries
Perhaps the most obvious effect of poor posture though, is its effect on spinal health:
- Low back pain is the single greatest contributor to disability world-wide and is one of the most common reasons for missing work
- Back Pain is the second most common reason for doctors’ visits, outnumbered only by upper respiratory tract infections
- Every year 50 percent of the work-force admit to having back pain
- Approximately 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives
- Most cases of back pain are considered mechanical or non-organic
- Americans spend around $50 billion annually on back pain alone
Now whilst these stats pertain to Americans it is likely that our stats are similar although lack of access to quality healthcare may lead to an inaccurate reflection of the severity of the problem. Either way it should be clear that, if for no other reason than for its effect on back pain, posture is something worth addressing. However some other researched benefits of improved posture include:
- Improved heart and lung capacity
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Decreased effects of Asthma
- Improved proprioception and movement patterns
- More energy and clarity of mind
- Reduced Low Back Pain
- Reduced Mortality and risk of falls in the elderly
- Decreased risk of heart attacks
- Higher levels of engagement in children with autism and ADHD
- Increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of cortisol; linked to improved self confidence and tolerance for risk
Advanced BioStructural Correction™, a Chiropractic technique, has repeatedly been shown to improve posture by using external forces to correct misalignments of bones that have been moved in directions the body can’t self correct. The results are then evident using posture photographs before and after an adjustment, a valid method for the evaluation of posture.
In this modern era of tablets and gaming devices where people are becoming more and more sedentary, correction of joint and nerve dysfunction as well as engagement in education about posture and exercise programs is to be considered extremely beneficial to development and well-being, both in short-term and long-term health.
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