We all know that good posture is an important part of being healthy, but it's something you often put off until later, like so many other aspects of our own self-care. You may not realise however, all of the ways in which having better body alignment can impact your life. Here are just a few changes that you can expect when you do get around to working on your posture...
1. You feel more energetic:
"Standing with optimal posture allows your diaphragm to work more efficiently, which can make breathing easier and less labored," says Alynn Dukart, certified strength and conditioning specialist and wellness physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. A forward, rounded posture (say, from hunching over your laptop) restricts the expansion of your rib cage as you breathe, compresses your diaphragm, and can even decrease lung capacity, making breathing more difficult. Efficient breathing, on the other hand, regulates the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout your body and keeps you energised.
2. You're less likely to experience headaches:
If you do suffer with headaches, your posture could be to blame. Tension headaches are most often caused by a tight neck, upper back, and jaw muscles, all of which are made worse by forward head and rounded shoulders posture. Over time, if the muscle tightness persists, trigger points and stiff upper cervical (neck) jointss can develop, causing radiating pain into your head. Being more mindful of your body alignment, combined with a regular, simple routine of stretching and strengthening your muscle groups, can reverse all of these effects.
3. There is less strain on your joints:
Bad posture is bad news for your joints. Put simply, our bodies are deigned to be "stacked" or aligned in a certain way. When this isn't happening, our muscles and joints are subjected to stresses that they aren't designed for. "Tech neck", or forward head posture for example, places significant stress on your shoulder and neck joints and surrounding muscles, which can lead to pain and headaches. Research has repeatedly shown that for every inch of forward head posture, the weight of the head on the spine increses by 10 pounds. Another common thing we see is anterior pelvic tilt, which compresses your lumbar spine and can lead to back and hip pain.
4. You will feel less stressed:
Yes, really! A study from the University of Auckland found that sitting up straight can be used as a coping mechanism against stress. Participants were randomly assigned to two groups and asked to complete a stress-inducing task. The first group completed the task in an upright position, while the second group did so while being in a slouched posture. After the task was over, participants who used good posture reported feeling "more enthusiastic, excited, and strong." Meanwhile, slouched participants reported feeling more "fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still, passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish." Researchers suspect that sitting up straight can stimulate physiological arousal such as a increase in blood pressure, and trigger a coping response to stress. When your body isn't aligned properly, it appears to alter your hormones and nervous system function, which then alters your mood.
Poor posture contributes to problems in breathing patterns. We see this issue frequently in people who spend a lot of time sitting each day. Maintaining a posture where your shoulders are rounded and your head is forward causes the muscles around your chest to tighten. These tight chest muscles can limit the ability of your rib cage to expand, and this can cause you to take rapid, shallow breaths.
More specifically, people with a more curved upper back (thoracic kyphosis) and internally rotated shoulders have limited movement of their thorax. When breathing in, the rib cage can’t fully expand and the lungs cannot fully inflate.
An increased arch in your lower back (lumbar lordosis), where the pelvis is tilted forward, decreases the range of motion of the lower lumbar spine and shortens the latissimus and lower back extensor muscles. This limits the range of motion of the diaphragm, again restricting the inflation of your lungs. The abdominal muscles are overstretched in this posture as well, limiting their function of helping to breath out.
Some people may also find difficulty breathing with an exaggerated curve in their neck (cervical lordosis) due to compression of their larynx.
Belly breathing pulls down on your diaphragm, which is a dome shaped muscle between your chest and your stomach, to suck air into your lungs. Belly breathing fully inflates your lungs so that you get as much air as possible, whereas chest breathing only partially inflates your lungs.
Stress-related illnesses, sleep problems, respiratory problems, immune system weakening, and high blood pressure are all symptoms of long term shallow breathing.
Try it for yourself
While sitting in a chair, let your shoulders slump and your head hang forwards. Now in this position try and take a deep breath.
How does it feel? Hard to do a belly breath right?
Poor alignment in that slumped position means your diaphragm can’t descend easily making it hard to activate the posterior half of your diaphragm that attaches to your lower ribs and spine. To get enough air in, your body has to recruit its “back up” breathing muscles around the neck and chest to help breathe in, expanding the rib cage to get air travelling down into the lungs.
These neck and chest muscles are not very efficient and are not designed to be used for the 17,000 breaths we take on average per day. They get tired, fatigued and tight, which can lead to headaches, neck and jaw pain.
Now try sitting tall, with your head up and shoulders back, then take a deep breath into your belly. It’s easier, right? The process of putting yourself in a more optimal position for your spine allows the correct respiratory muscles to activate, drawing air into the lower lobes of the lungs where the best bloody supply is.
*Clinical research findings*
Forward head posture causes expansion of the upper thorax and contraction of the lower thorax, and these morphological changes cause decreased respiratory function.
(JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL THERAPY SCIENCE 2019)
Results indicate that forward head posture could reduce vital capacity, possibly because of weakness or disharmony of the accessory respiratory muscles.
(JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL THERAPY SCIENCE 2016)
Alteration of head and neck positions can have an immediate negative impact on respiratory function. Clinicians should be prompted to assess respiratory function when assessing individuals with forward head posture and torticollis and reduce the tension on respiratory system to avoid negative consequences.
(BIOMED RESEARCH INTERNATIONAL 2018)
Are you guilty of having poor posture while reading this blog post? If so, you may be suffering from a modern day health challenge called “tech neck.” Poor posture while utilising technology is a very common factor contributing to poor postural design.
Technology is recognized as one of the principle causes of the modern day posture epidemic. Poor posture due to looking down at a mobile phone is so common that a new diagnosis has been created to explain the phenomenon, and that is “tech neck.”
Do you suffer from headaches, neck pain, shoulder tightness or fatigue?
If you do, it could be due to your posture while using technology. Repetitive stresses from checking your mobile phone with improper posture or having slouched posture at work on your computer can have a tremendous impact on your posture and your health.
The impact of proper posture is far beyond the musculoskeletal system. Consider the following research studies showing that forward head posture has a negative impact on your health.
Did you know…?
Instead of looking down while sending a text message, checking your email or social media, raise your phone to eye level to avoid excessive strain to your neck and upper back. Also, be sure that when using a computer your screen is close enough where you can see it clearly without jutting your head forward, as well as having it at the correct height so you're not looking down to see the viewing area.
For proper posture while using technology, consider the following posture tips to re-train poor posture habits.
Many of us spend more time at our desks than any other place in our waking hours. While the risk of injury from sitting down can seem unlikely, spending hours in a poorly set up workspace can place a lot of pressure on your body and lead to overuse injuries or postural pain. Below are a few tips that can help you set up your workstation better.
The height of your chair is a good place to begin. Ideally, your feet should be flat on the floor, and if you can adjust the height of the chair, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. If your chair has armrests, they should be low enough to allow your elbows to sit comfortably between 90-110 degrees of bend and rest by the side of your body. A small cushion or rolled-up towel may be added to the back of the chair to add support to the lower back to help prevent slouching.
If you are unable to adjust your chair and it is too high, you can use a footrest to allow your feet to rest comfortably.
The height of your desk should be set so that your arms can rest comfortably at the keyboard and hands, wrists and forearms can sit in a neutral position, parallel to the floor. Where possible, put everything you need within easy reach and alternate days using your mouse and phone with different hands on different days (if you can do this with your non-dominant hand!).
The height of your computer should be raised so that the top of the screen is around eye level. Allowing your neck to rest in a neutral position can help to prevent neck pain and headaches. Ideally, if you can set the screen to be 20-40 inches away from your face, this will reduce strain on your eyes while reading.
Some other tips
Being comfortable is extremely important for productivity and focus. If you are struggling with pain, your work will often suffer. Even joint stiffness and muscle tightness can disrupt your workflow, so taking the time to adjust your workstation can save you countless hours in the long run and prevent painful overuse injuries.
Taking active breaks from sitting to move and stretch can help to maintain muscle and joint health, which can be compromised from being in the same posture too long. You can set a timer or make the effort to take phone calls and video meetings standing, rather than always sitting.
You can speak to your physiotherapist or posture specilaist for more personalised advice on your workplace setup.
What if I told you that your posture can cause minor aches and pains or long term pain, discomfort, and sometimes loss of function? As you lean forward on the edge of your seat to continue reading this, your shoulders may be slouching while your head might be shifting slightly forward. Do you do this often?
If you consistently read or look at a screen in this posture, or if you find yourself hanging your head when you walk, you could develop a common musculoskeletal condition called forward head posture (FHP).
Have you ever seen someone with their head and neck leaning forward? You may see it in older adults more, but with the routine activities we perform (e.g. mobile phone usage), it’s becoming more common.
If you perform activities regularly in poor alignment it alters your nerve and muscle pathways, which will cause the head and neck to adapt more readily to FHP. Some muscles will become stronger and tighter while others will become weaker and more stretched. The nerves could then be affected as well; even getting “pinched” or compressed. This does not occur overnight, it happens gradually. The more you perform an activity in poor alignment the less likely you are to notice you’re doing it and before long you’ll have FHP and the symptoms to go along with it. Some of you reading this may already have symptoms but never realized it until now.
Here are three questions to ask yourself regularly to help you avoid forward head posture:
What kind of posture do I have while I’m at work?
Whatever you do for a living, do it in good posture. You spend many hours of your life at work so this is one of the places you’ll need to be the most vigilant. Adjust your seat and laptop/computer so the top of the screen is at eye level- you shouldn’t feel like you have to strain or hunch forward to read something on the screen. It’s important you get a handle on this and help clients make the necessary adjustments.
Am I hanging my head/lurching my neck forward when reading, playing video games, or on my phone?
When it comes to activities involving books, mobile devices, or computer screens, you may have a bad habit of staring and not realizing the position your neck is in. Let’s do a small activity, where are you right now and what is your body doing? Pay attention to your head and neck. Are you guilty of the problem? Going forward, I want you to work on your awareness. When holding your mobile device, hold it higher and away from your face so it’s comfortable. Use your eyes instead of leaning your neck forward or tilting your chin downward when on your phone. Check your body alignment when playing video games, especially if you slouch. If you’re reading books, pay attention to how you’re sitting or lying, and where your head and neck are positioned. Remember, you do these activities often, so make sure you habitually do them in good alignment.
When I exercise or perform activities, do I have poor mechanics and don’t realize it?
Have you ever seen someone performing an exercise and they’re pushing their head and neck forward, maybe with the increased effort? I’ve seen too many people jut their chin and head forward while performing exercises. My point here is when you exercise you must pay attention to what your body is doing. Let’s make some changes now by correcting our poor habits.
I hope you pass this message along because there are too many people who probably have symptoms and don’t realize what’s causing them. Symptoms could be as simple as neck pain or headaches, or more complex than that. While every ache or pain isn’t caused by poor posture, it’s still worth checking your head and neck to ensure they’re in proper alignment. Ask yourself these questions and keep correcting yourself where possible.