Don’t Be a Slouch!

At some point throughout our childhood, we have heard the phrases “sit up straight” and “don’t slouch.” During adulthood, the idea of good posture is of increasingly great importance in maintaining well-being and optimal health, especially during a time when our society has shown trends of increased time spent watching television, sitting in front of computers, working sedentary desk jobs and commuting long hours.

The long term effects of poor sitting posture have been associated with numerous painful conditions relating to the function of muscles, joints, ligaments, nerves, connective tissue, circulation, respiration, and digestion. Common associated diagnosed conditions include temporomandibular joint dysfunction, headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, repetitive strain injuries, mid and low back pain, thoracic outlet syndrome, and myofascial pain syndrome. More importantly, poor sitting posture may adversely affect activities of daily living and overall energy level at work and home.

The concept that there is a single ideal posture is misleading. This idea does not take into account that people are proportioned differently or, for example, the multiple positions a worker needs to sustain to accomplish a task in varying situations. Factors that influence our postures include the environment surrounding us, our personal habits and attitudes at a certain point in time. There is no “perfect posture.” Posture is dynamic. Functionally, our bodies are reacting to and working against gravity and other stresses to maintain balance. Good sitting posture maintains the three normal curvatures of the spine. The lumbar (lower back), thoracic (mid-back), and cervical (neck) transform the spine into a flexible unit allowing the body and head to be erect with minimal muscular effort.

Prolonged static sitting position will eventually lead to feelings of stiffness, soreness, achiness and pain as body tissues become overloaded. The most commonly seen improper sitting posture is “slouching”; characterized by a rounded lower back, humped upper back, rounded shoulders, and a forward head position. The resultant alignment leads to biomechanical dysfunctions of the spine and the extremities, which include muscle imbalances, connective tissue restrictions, altered mechanics of the shoulder and spinal joints, increased vertebral disc compression and narrowing of the space in which arteries and nerves pass. In essence, poor posture allows one to become vulnerable to injury and is one of the factors which hinders healing and adequate resolution of associated painful conditions.

In most cases, it is not too late to experience the positive outcomes of improving one’s posture.  Physical therapy evaluations incorporate a postural assessment to define the severity of the postural problem, to identify contributing factors, and to recognize the possible relationship to someone’s given pain and dysfunction. Treatment of postural dysfunctions may involve regaining the normal length of shortened muscles, mobilizing stiff extremity and spinal joints, strength and endurance training of postural muscles, addressing environmental/ergonomic factors, and education of postural awareness and correction. Awareness is the key to the success of postural re-education. Just like your body has adapted to poor posture over a number of years, you can allow your body to adapt once again to its natural structural state.