Posted by: drbinder | October 22, 2011

Medical Research on Posture

When I was younger my Mom always told me to keep my head up and shoulders back, or in other words, “stop slouching at the dinner table.”  I wasn’t sure why it was so important, until one day she pointed out a very conspicuous young man working at our bank.  He was tall, lean, and his presence seemed to attract everyone’s glance as he moved in a smooth coordinated motion around the room.  That presence was undoubtedly a result of his distinct and noticeably felicitous posture.

Today, the concept of posture is the fastest growing topic among alternative and traditional doctors of medicine.   However, unless you were a model who grew up balancing encyclopedias on top of your head, you probably don’t think about your posture very often.  This makes it very easy to develop poor posture habits which have clinically proven adverse affects on your health.

Statistically, 90% of the American population carries their head in front of their shoulders, this is called Forward Head Posture (FHP).  Let’s say the average skull weighs about 8 pounds.  Every inch of FHP increases the relative weight of your head by an extra 10 pounds! This additional strain on your neck causes tightness and pressure which can lead to numerous types of pain syndromes and headaches.  More importantly, poor posture is now known to have a profound influence on several other aspects of health as well.

    Roger Cady, MD  was published in the Journal of Pain Management (1994) for his ground breaking study that linked poor posture to other physiological processes such as abnormal breathing, blood pressure, imbalanced hormone levels and a compromised immune system.

The integral relationship of posture, your spine, and the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is our best current understanding to linking our musculo-skeletal system and whole body health.  Your bodies relative position to the head and limbs should be properly aligned to allow for optimal muscle energy usage.  Any distortion in that alignment creates abnormal muscle tension, and a disrupted neural signal from the muscle to the spinal cord.  That signal is integrated on a specific spinal cord tract that is intimately related to the synapses of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  The SNS controls the rate of blood flow to the muscles and organ systems.  During prolonged physical stress these synapses are activated, and the sympathetic nervous system constricts blood flow, altering vital cell and organ function.

The “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system is activated by physical and mental stress.  During the stress response blood is shunted away from the organs of digestion, reproduction, and also those of immune and hormone function.  Without blood, these very important homeostatic regulators are deprived of oxygen, ultimately causing cell death if the stress is not removed.

For a quick example of how posture affects the respiratory system, try taking a deep breath while slouching forward, then compare it to a breath while sitting up straight with your shoulders and head back.  Notice the difference?  Your chest and neck muscles are wasting precious energy (ATP) to expand the rib cage. This sets the body up for fatigue and subsequent injuries of the neck and shoulder.  The bigger picture is that you’re decreasing the capacity of the lungs, and there by depriving your brain and body of that vital life component…oxygen!

Amazingly, posture is very easily corrected, and it starts with a simple awareness of your body throughout the day.  A good place to start can be in your car.  See how long you can leave your head back against the seat before it drifts forward.  If you spend an hour in the car every day, that’s an hour of avoidable poor posture and neck strain.   When you’re at the computer or dinner table, try to straighten up whenever you feel yourself slouching forward.   Adopt it as a mantra, saying to yourself “every time I correct my posture, I am helping my lungs breath and my heart beat.”

At first it will feel awkward, and you will eventually let yourself fall back to an improper position.  Just keep correcting yourself and after some time your perspective will switch.  Soon it will become comfortable to sit up straight in proper posture, and you will feel the strain on your muscles when you begin to slouch.   You can begin your awareness right now, just by noticing your posture as you read my next blog.

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