The Power of Posture
Stand up straight! This is something most of us have heard or said at some stage in our lives but many of us may not fully realise that the impact of our posture goes way beyond physical appearance. While a good posture can make us look and feel confident and of course help us stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions that place the least strain on our body, it can also affect our breathing, digestive system, cardiovascular system and even brain!
Normally, our posture is not something we consciously maintain as this is done by certain muscles (which are under the control of our nervous system) and we don't even have to think about it. When functioning properly these postural muscles prevent the forces of gravity from pushing us over forward and maintain our posture and balance during movement.
To maintain proper posture, it is necessary to have adequate muscle flexibility and strength, efficient and balanced postural muscles on both sides of the spine, normal joint motion and of course spinal function!
Spine Health An upright spine is made up of three important spinal curves. A misaligned spine pulls on different muscles, overworking some and shortening others and these imbalances can lead to injuries in other parts of the body. Poor posture also distorts the spines natural curves and it’s probably no surprise that these changes can cause back pain, neck pain and headaches but over time, poor posture can actually lead to a loss of function and even deformity in the spine and further associated issues.
To easily test how your posture can affect other systems in your body, stand up straight and take a deep, full breath in. Next sit down and slouch forward, take a breath here and you should easily feel the difference. Poor posture means our rib cage is unable to elevate and expand and potentially reduces our breathing capacity by 30% which means our body is not receiving the oxygen it requires to function optimally. When this becomes a constant process, our breathing muscles shut off which then forces our body to rely on muscles in our neck (which are only supposed to be accessory breathing muscles) and can end up causing neck conditions and headaches. Stress can also lead to poor posture because it causes you to breathe more shallowly, which leads to slumping.
Digestion & Circulation Slumpy, slouchy posture compresses the space in your abdomen which affects your internal organs. Digestion is impaired if your stomach and intestines do not have the space required to process food efficiently and increased pressure on your heart makes it harder for it to do its job, leading to impaired circulation and improper blood flow throughout the body.
Similarly, poor posture (specifically forward head posture) affects your Autonomic Nervous System which regulates the functions of your internal organs and controls everything that happens automatically in your body such as your heartbeat, breathing and digestion. Normal posture is required for processing of information that goes to your brain to be normal and forward head posture causes overreaction to stimuli and sends us into sympathetic dominance (fight or flight). For more information please read our recent blog post 'The effect of forward head posture on your brain'.
Mood The connection between posture and mood goes both ways. People who are depressed tend to have poorer posture than happier people and posture seems to affect people’s mood. Good posture can help you feel less fatigued and have more positive emotions. When you consider all the information that travels between the brain and the body through the spine, it makes sense that a healthy spine feels good all over.
Posture Tips Now you know the importance of posture, you must be wondering what you can do to improve yours! Here are some of our tips:
1. Focus on everything around you - Rather than being ‘pulled in’ by what is near, being aware of your wider surroundings uses different muscles in your eyes. The different feedback to your brain then causes your postural muscles to keep you more upright.
2. Strengthen your postural muscles - Focus on exercises to strengthen extensors: back muscles, gluteal muscles and neck muscles. Do push ups, rowing exercises or supermans to keep those upper back muscles strong.
3. Stretch - Shoulder/chest: stand inside a doorway with your elbow and hand at 90 degrees and lean forward through your body to stretch your upper chest. Upper back: lie with your spine along a rolled up towel or foam roller with your hands out and knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Focus on breathing through your chest and relax here for 10 - 20 minutes.
4. Rotate your hand, palms facing forward - This is very simple, but by rotating your palms forward, you automatically open up your shoulders. This is a wonderful break to take when sitting working at the computer.
5. Reset your posture - Stand with your feet, buttocks and shoulders against a wall, with the back of your neck pressing against it and your chin in. Push the back of your head against the wall. This is how your posture should be.
6. Sit Less - Get a standing desk and don’t sit for extended periods, take little breaks when possible. If you must sit, have your feet on the ground, uncrossed with your back supported against the back of a chair.
7. Technology Hygiene - Limit use where possible. Lie on your tummy when using technology or watching tv to encourage spine extension, strengthen upper back and neck muscles and keep airways open. Lift your smartphone to eye level to use.
8. Get your spine checked - A Chiropractor can ensure the alignment and segmental movement of your spine allows you to stand straight, to breathe completely and is supporting optimal control of your postural muscles through your nervous system. With a little awareness and willingness to make small, consistent changes you can feel, look and function better! Please get in touch if this is something we can help you with!