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How to maintain spinal health while engaging in everyday activities.

Poor posture isn’t an inevitable consequence of ageing, just consider ballerinas – they look youthful even as they age thanks to their upright posture. Patients often feel guilty about poor posture, as if it were some kind of moral failing, but it isn’t. Many factors conspire to create poor posture, and this article will help you to understand them, and stop giving yourself a hard time whenever you slouch. 

Would I have better posture if I had more will power?

Not if it’s caused by an imbalance between the muscles at the front and those at the back. Most people have tight pectoral muscles at the front – a tight muscle is one which is sitting short and pulling where it’s attached. If the muscles between your shoulder blades are too weak to counteract that forward pull, you will struggle to maintain good posture.

How can I age like a ballerina?

Ask anyone to do an impression of an old person and the first thing they’ll do is hunch forward. As the years pass, people’s spines can become fixed and rigid from spending so much time in that hunched position. Eventually, over decades, bones can re-model and this bent posture can become a permanent fixture. However, this is not inevitable, and the vast majority of people can still make a difference to their posture by making some changes.

The first step is to work out what’s causing your body to default into that curved position.

How have I ended up with bad posture?

There are so many daily activities which invite us to hunch our shoulders forward. Take a look at this list and work out which apply to you.

  • Drive for extended periods
  • Do desk work/ sit at a computer
  • Breast feeding
  • Texting/ watching mobile screens
  • Knitting
  • Computer gaming

When you add work activities to leisure ones, you may be straining your posture for hours every day. If you spend all day in a hunched position, you can’t expect to spring back up like a ballerina. If we did more activities where we were pulling things towards us, it would build up our shoulder muscles, but most people don’t.

Think about how these habits are impacting on your posture as you grow older.  People who have addressed this issue give off an impression of youth and grace as soon as they enter a room, regardless of their age. At the end of this article you’ll find out how you can become a bit more like that yourself. First of all, consider these factors which may also be contributing to your tendency to slouch.

The psychological component.

Many people slouch because they feel less conspicuous that way. For example-

  • Tall people. I’m 6’4” and when I first grew tall I wanted to hide away. My dad nagged me to stand tall and in the end it worked.
  • Teenage girls as they begin to develop curves.
  • Heavy breasted women. If you’re considering breast reduction surgery to combat chronic back pain, try addressing your posture first and see what happens.

Habits are hard to break.

Some get into the habit of slouching as a teen and never get out of it. It can look cool to slouch, models and young people slouch, but check out the man in the photo above. How much younger would he look if he stood up straight?

Check your eye sight

If you’re struggling to see, there’s a tendency to push your head forward to get closer as you squint at the object you’re holding.

The benefits of good posture – it’s not just about looking good.

The human head weighs as much as a bowling ball. If you hold this weight directly above your body, the muscles in your neck don’t have to work so hard to hold it in place. However, the man in the photo above carries the weight of his head in a forward position, which means the muscles in his neck, shoulders and spine have to work a lot harder. This can lead to headaches, muscle pain, increased pressure on the discs, nerve irritation and in the longer run potentially osteoarthritis and degeneration of the discs.

Research has shown that good posture makes people more attractive to potential partners, and people with upright posture are less likely to injure themselves. If your body is slouched, all your viscera are compressed and everything has to work harder. If you stand up straight, your lung capacity increases, circulation improves, and your energy increase will increase too.

Chiropractic adjustments can make a tangible difference, as our patient Adrian Richards has found: Since attending sessions I need to remember where the pans are hung up at home so as to stop smacking my head on them, due to walking taller! (Google review.)

Poor posture tends to be a major factor behind many other symptoms. When we see an improvement in posture, reduction in pain and symptoms follows.

Who has good posture?

Most people have sub-optimal posture. Here are some exceptions-

  • People who are physically active, especially if their job or sport includes a wide range of motions.
  • If they row with good form, rowers tend to have strong shoulder muscles.
  • People in the military have good posture, not only because they are physically active, but also because they receive so many reminders to stand upright and proud. Dancers receive similar amounts of nagging from their trainers. In this way, upright posture becomes a hallmark of these professions and part of their work culture.

The muscles which need strengthening are the lower trapezius and the rhomboids, and here are some exercises which build those muscles up-

  • In the gym you could do seated rows, lat pull downs and reverse flyes.
  • In the pool, breaststroke (if done properly) can help (click here.)
  • If done with good form, rowing.
  • Dancers of all kinds rely on good posture to avoid injury (click here to understand why.) Belly dancing can be especially powerful. 

What else can you do?

It will vary depending on causes but here are some good general strategies.

  • A chiropractor will be able to restore movement to the spine, freeing up the stuck joints and identifying which muscles need strengthening or stretching. As our patient Caroline Richardson puts it, “You come out after an adjustment feeling tall!” (Google review.)
  • We will also help you identify the specific causes of your poor posture. The tips in this article are a great starting point, but a chiropractor can look at your particular case, explain what changes to make, and support you through that process.
  • Make sure that your desk, car seat and other places where you spend a lot of time are set up correctly to reduce postural strain. Click here to find out how to sit, or here to read about ergonomics.
  • Become aware not only of how you stand but also of your habits. Rummaging in your handbag? Take it off your lap and put it on the table. Texting? Use your arm to hold the phone at eye level.
  • Postural exercises. Chiropractors can help here too, because we know exactly which exercises will suit the individual and can talk you through them.
  • ABC. At Hexham Family Chiropractic, our chiropractors are trained in a technique called Advanced Bio-structural Correction. ABC is particularly powerful in restoring upright posture, to find out more click here.

Not your fault.

If you’ve developed an imbalance between the muscles at the front and those at the back, for example from spending all day at a poorly set up desk, no amount of will power is going to give you upright posture. But this does not mean that you are destined to have a hunched spine which stiffens as you age. The human brain is a very heavy thing – why not use yours to apply what you’ve read here today to your own life? Reflect on your lifestyle and if you can, get the expert help of a chiropractor. Stand to your full height! You deserve to.