Restoring Good Posture Can Energize Your Life
You know what’s amazing about the human body? It wants you to be the absolute best version of yourself, regardless of how much you neglect it. Some of us use tricks to keep ourselves in good posture (devices, apps, etc.) even before back or neck pain starts. But most people are motivated only once their body is grumbling in pain. Often, improving your posture is the fix your back needs to get well, move well, and stay well.
Why is good posture important?
Consider that your head is about the weight of a 10-to-12-pound bowling ball, effectively making it 10 pounds heavier for every one inch of downward tilt. So when your head is tilted fully forward — like you do when using any hand-held device or when reading — your muscles and ligaments are straining to keep a 60-pound bowling ball in place!
Unhealthy posture can have surprising effects.
Upper back posture is arguably the most important since your vital organs (your heart and lungs) are in this area of your body. As part of the British Regional Heart Study, scientists found that people who lost just three centimeters of height due to unhealthy posture over the course of 20 years incurred a 64 percent greater likelihood of dying from heart attack — due to the extra pressure and strain their poor posture placed on their hearts. And the Journal of American Geriatrics Society reports that people with hunchback are twice more likely to die from pulmonary causes and 2.4 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those with healthy posture.
Poor posture commonly causes neck pain, headaches, or upper back pain. And when not addressed, a variety of conditions — such as sciatica, disc displacement, stenosis, stress fractures, and loss of motor function — can occur. Here are some posture conditions you may recognize.
- Forward head carriage, known in the medical world as anterior head carriage, is what we typically do when we strain our heads forward to see something in front of us or when writing.
- The popularity of hand-held devices has led to an epidemic of “text neck” — since we now tend to look down more than forward.
- Hunchback, known in the medical world as hyperkyphosis or upper cross, is when you have an excessive curve in your upper back, e.g. slouching in a chair.
- Hollow back, known in the medical world as hyperlordosis or lower cross, is when you have an excessive (concave) curve in your lower back. The stomach protrudes too far forward, and your buttocks sticks out in the back.
- Swayback, similar to hollow back, involves excessive curve in the lower back combined with leaning your upper back too far back when standing.
- Flatback, known in the medical world as hypokyphosis and hypolordosis, is when you have too straight of a back. We need a slight curve in our backs to act like a spring and provide shock absorption. This is often seen in the upper back with military posture and in the lower back with slouching or weight in the abdominal region (including during pregnancy).
It’s too late. My posture’s already horrible.
It’s never too late (or too early) to improve your posture. You can do it at just about any stage in life and during most daily activities. According to Thomas Meyer, author of Anatomy Trains, “Movement becomes habit, which becomes posture, which becomes structure.”
Although today’s youth is experiencing an epidemic of slouching and “text neck,” this age is also the perfect time to start building healthy, lifelong habits. Another pivotal time in our lives to revisit posture is between 45 and 65 when we hopefully still have some flexibility in our spine before arthritic changes in our backs permanently alter structure.
How to Improve Poor Posture
There are things you can do on your own to achieve postural correction. Consider how you sleep. You may not realize it, but your sleep position has a direct effect on your posture. The ideal posture for sleep is on your back. Sleeping in this position helps decompress your back and flatten any excessive curves. When in this position, keep your arms by your side and keep your legs straight.
If you sleep on your side, insert a pillow between your knees and use a thick pillow to support your neck and relieve pressure from your shoulder.
Stomach sleeping is widely regarded as the worst sleeping position. It flattens the natural curve of your spine and strains the neck. If you mostly sleep on your tummy, seek help from your doctor of chiropractic and try to gradually train your body to sleep in a healthier position.
When sitting (on an airplane, at work, studying, or driving), you can provide low back support by placing a small pillow at your lower back. Make sure the top of the support is below your lowest ribs, and your sacrum touches the seatback. Aim for a “two-forearms” pillow: two of your forearms wide, a forearm in length, and as firm as your forearm. Most low back supports are excessive. Use one airplane pillow for smaller frames and two if you have a larger structure.
Other ways to improve your posture:
- Use a cervical pillow! They’re high on the sides for side sleeping, low in the center for back sleeping, and position at the base of your neck for extra support.
- Raise your arms when looking at hand-held devices.
- Check your alignment. Be sure that your ear, shoulder, greater trochanter, and midfoot form a straight line.
- Try Brügger’s Relief Position. It’s a brilliant posture-correction exercise that is also a great tension reliever.
- Avoid heels and shoes with no arch support.
- Back sleepers should choose firm mattresses, and moderately firm with soft top layers are best for side sleepers.
The best way to correct your posture is by working with a chiropractic physician, commonly referred to as a chiropractor, to understand which type of posture you tend toward. They can develop a personalized, posture-specific plan for you. Once you have attained healthy posture, maintain your prescribed exercises and stretches and schedule regular chiropractic adjustments to prevent misalignment and maximize your well-being.