Importance of proper posture

I’m sure everyone has been told at least once in his or her life to sit up straight. It turns out mom might have been on to something when she was telling us to sit up straight. Proper posture

is extremely important in providing appropriate loading of the spine and maintaining proper muscle balance throughout the body.

Normal curvatures of the spine

The spine normally has an S shaped curve with three main regions that are most often considered in regards to proper posture. The cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine have distinct characteristics that allow for proper mechanics to occur at the spine. The top region of the spine is called the cervical spine, which consists of 7 vertebrae with associated discs in between the vertebrae. The cervical spine is normally convex forward.   The area below the cervical spine is the thoracic spine consisting of twelve vertebrae. This region has a concave curvature facing towards the front of the body. The lumbar spine is the next region down with five vertebrae and a convex curvature towards the front of the body. These curvatures allow optimal movement to occur in the trunk as well as the rest of the body. The proper positioning of the spinal segments allow decreased stress to be placed on the discs of the spine and other areas of the body due to the force of gravity. When individuals have improper posture the curvature of the spine can change. This causes the force of gravity to be placed on different areas of the spine and places abnormal stress on muscles, ligaments, bones, discs, and nerves which can cause pain.

Effects of improper posture

Poor posture can create muscle imbalances throughout the body. Certain muscles can become stretched while others can become tightened. For example, forward head posture is the traditional slumped posture that comes to mind when we think of poor posture. The shoulders are rounded and the head is shifted forward over the chest. This posture causes the muscles in the back to be stretched while the chest muscles become tightened.  These imbalances can cause stress at joints and the involved muscles can pull on the bones they attach to, which can lead to pain and dysfunctional movements.  Another problem due to the muscle imbalances of improper posture is decreased strength. Muscles contract optimally at a certain length. When the muscle becomes stretched or tightened this length does not facilitate as strong of a contraction.

Breathing can also be impacted in those with poor posture. When an individual is slumped over the curve of their thoracic spine becomes increased. This restricts the available movement of the ribs and does not allow the lungs to fully expand and take in as much oxygen. This decrease in oxygen volume along with muscle imbalances causes muscular fatigue.  Since your muscles are not at a length that is optimal for strong contractions muscles must work harder to accomplish movement. Decreased oxygen impacts the ability for your cells to create energy in order for muscle contractions to occur. Since your muscles are already working harder because of imbalances from poor posture decreased oxygen will cause your muscles to fatigue much more quickly.

It has also been estimated that around 95% of individuals who suffer from headaches have poor posture. The cervical spine is the region where poor posture is thought to cause headaches most often.  Postural impairments of this region places tension on muscles. This can cause muscle spasms and impact nerve transmission. Some of the nerves for the cervical region cross with the trigeminal nerve, which is the nerve that transmits information regarding pain from the head. Because of crossing signals your brain has difficulty detecting where the pain is coming from and the individual experiences pain in both their cervical region (neck) and their head.

Maintaining a neutral spine

Proper posture is often referred to as having a neutral spine. This means the three regions of the spine are maintained in their proper curvatures. There are proper postures that should be used for all positions. During standing feet should be placed flat on the ground with weight evenly distributed through both legs. Knees should not be locked and the pelvis should be in neutral alignment. In order to determine neutral pelvic alignment it is helpful to tilt your hips all the way forward and then all the way back. The position of your pelvis right in the middle of these two positions is neutral pelvic alignment. Your shoulders should also be pulled back and your shoulder blades should be slightly pulled together. Your head should be facing forward and over your body, not in front of your chest. Your chin should also be slightly tucked.

The correct sitting posture involves both feet being placed flat on the floor while pointing straight forward. Your legs should be shoulder width apart and not crossed. Your knees and hips should be at 90-degree angles. Neutral pelvic alignment should be maintained which can be found using the same method as described during standing posture. Your back should be supported against the back of the chair, using a rolled up towel behind your lower back for support if needed. Your back should be straight and your shoulders pulled back. Your head should also be facing forward and pulled back over your body with your chin slightly tucked. If sitting at a computer desk your computer screen should be kept level with your eyes and your mouse should be in a position where your elbow can be kept at a 90-degree angle, without needing to reach forward to control the mouse.

At first, it may be difficult to maintain and hold these positions because your body will want to fall back into the positions it was used to before. It is recommended to recognize every twenty minutes how you are holding your posture and focus on correcting it. You can do this by setting a reminder or timer for yourself. With practice and time proper posture will become natural and your muscles, bones, and joints will thank you for that.

When muscle imbalances and injuries arise

When muscle imbalances arise and cause pain due to postural deficits physical therapy can help correct the underlying issues. A physical therapist can perform an evaluation and determine which muscles and structures are causing the pain. The physical therapist will then design an exercise program to help regain muscle balances and fix underlying impairments. During physical therapy individuals will be instructed on what their proper posture is and how to maintain this posture to prevent further injuries from occurring.

Call Total Performance Physical Therapy today if you are experiencing back or neck pain.

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