Check yourself: Are you slouching over your laptop, smartphone or desktop computer right now?
There are many different causes of poor posture, but there’s no doubt the most widespread cause of our current posture dilemma is a direct result of our obsession with and our dependence on mobile devices. In addition, our day-to-day work and life activities revolve around computers more now than ever before.
According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011. Recent research measured the stress on the cervical spine with the head in varying degrees of flexed (head down) posture that is common during mobile device use, and it was determined that a downward gaze with the head bent forward at a 60-degree angle exerts a force of 60 pounds on the neck. Additional research has shown that for every inch the head moves forward from its ideal position directly over the shoulders, it gains 10 pounds in weight, putting significant stress on the muscles of the neck and upper back. It’s no wonder many of us experience some level of pain on a daily basis!
The danger of this forward-head posture, or FHP, is the domino effect it has on your entire spine. As the cervical curve is lost, the head protrudes forward, shifting the body’s center of gravity. To compensate, the upper body drifts backward and the hips tilt forward. This improper body alignment creates a structurally unstable environment for your spine and decreases the function of the nervous system, which in turn decreases the function of each and every organ in the body.
Thus, poor posture can not only lead to the all-too-common neck pain and headaches, but can also lead to other symptoms such as general fatigue, muscle fatigue, migraines, TMJ (jaw) pain and dysfunction, back pain, shoulder pain and a multitude of other myofascial pain syndromes. Research has also shown that poor posture leads to decreased vital lung capacity, decreased endorphin production, digestive problems and possible emotional instability.
In fact, the effects of poor posture on overall health are certainly widespread, and we have known about some of them for decades.
- Roger Sperry, Ph.D. (Nobel Prize in Medical Physiology, 1981) discovered that 90 percent of the brain's activity is used to balance your body within the gravitational field of earth. If your body is mechanically distorted, it will affect the other 10 percent of the brain's activity, which controls all vital body functions such as breathing, digestion and cognition. If the body framework (bone structure and spine) is in an off-balanced or misaligned position, it can impede or block the electrical and chemical transmissions of the nervous system, which controls ALL of your body's functions. This interference to the nervous system can cause or contribute to a multitude of symptoms and illnesses (in other words, the feeling that "I am hurting" or "I am sick"). Published research studies indicate that when body balance is restored, the body enters a healing cycle that alleviates pain and symptoms, enhances immune system function, increases blood and oxygen circulation, normalizes nervous system communication and creates more optimal body performance ("I feel good again").
- A recent study in the journal Spine discovered the following correlation between people with forward-head posture and their overall health and quality of life. The results found that all measures of health status showed significantly poorer scores proportional to the amount of forward-head posture exhibited by the individual. In other words, an individual's measured health status decreased significantly with a forward-head posture.
- Another recent study found that hyperkyphotic posture (forward-head posture or slumped posture) was associated with a nearly 1.5 greater rate of mortality, indicating that poor posture may lead to early death.
On the other hand, many studies have demonstrated the physical health benefits of maintaining good posture:
- The results of a 2009 study indicated that sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back (a confident posture) increases your self-attitude. In short, participants believed in themselves more when exhibiting a confident posture.
- The benefits aren't just mental. Posture plays a role at the hormonal level as well. A study published in 2010 demonstrated that high-power posture positions elicit an increase in testosterone (a confidence-boosting hormone) and a decrease in cortisol (a stress-related hormone).
- When we alter our posture and body language, it subconsciously influences our thinking and decision-making. Researcher Amy Cuddy states: "We make sweeping judgements and inferences based on body language, and those judgements can have really meaningful life outcomes like who we hire or promote or who we ask out on a date." So, your posture actually influences how others perceive you.
- Studies show that when we sit up straight, we are more likely to remember positive memories or think positive thoughts.
- The neuroendocrine profile of High T (testosterone) and Low C (cortisol) has been consistently linked to such outcomes as disease resistance and leadership abilities.
Preserving good posture is not easy these days, but with some simple lifestyle modifications, it is possible. The first step is being aware of the problem and making the effort to correct your poor posture habits throughout your day. Make a conscious decision to sit up straight and stand up straight, and it will reduce the physical stress on the joints, vessels, nerves and supportive tissues of the body.
Exercises, stretches and proprioceptive retraining can also be beneficial in the fight to maintain healthy posture. Strengthening the core in particular makes it easier to maintain proper sitting and standing posture for long periods of time. Movement throughout the day helps your body to reset itself into healthy posture, so make a point to get up from your desk at least twice an hour to walk and stretch.
Unfortunately, lifestyle modifications often fail to produce lasting results, despite great effort. If this is the case for you, it might indicate that the bones, joints and supportive tissues of the spine have undergone a deformation process that requires a special therapeutic intervention to permanently correct. iTrac® extension traction therapy utilizes pneumatic traction forces applied in precise directions over a specific duration of time to improve the alignment of the spine, much like an orthodontist uses force and time to change the alignment of teeth. iTrac® therapy is utilized in conjunction with traditional chiropractic and/or physical therapy protocols to create physical stability in the body as the it adapts to the newly re-established spinal configuration. Once the desired structural changes are attained, they can be preserved with maintenance iTrac® therapy, similar to wearing a retainer after orthodontic braces are removed to preserve the improved alignment of teeth.
So if you can’t pull yourself away from that smartphone, tablet or laptop, do not fear! The physical medicine industry is making timely advances in therapeutic devices and protocols to combat this posture epidemic.