Good posture can be undervalued when considering health and fitness goals and yet it is the foundation of good health! As important as eating right, exercising daily and getting a good night’s rest is, without good posture, your body will constantly be working at sub-optimal levels to function.
Proper posture not only looks good, but it also lends to less stress on the body, freeing up more energy for other activities and having less fatigue on your muscles and joints.
Unfortunately in today’s society, we are constantly operating in an environment that promotes sedentary, flexion-based activities, i.e., sitting at your computer, sitting in your car, watching TV or spending time on your phone. All of these activities can accumulate over time and shape bad habits that we may not even realize have set in and predispose us to sickness and injury.
A common issue we see in the office is forward head posture (FHP), also sometimes referred to as “text neck”. This type of posture can lead to degenerative joints, tension headaches, nerve impingement, decreased blood flow and breathing. Through out the day our muscles are firing to keep our spine upright. After a prolonged amount of time these muscles began to lose power and as such we begin to slouch. As your head juts forwards and tilts down, this alters how the vertebrae are stacking up on each other. For every inch that the head moves forward in posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the neck by ten pounds. This can lead to too much stress on the joints and can damage the disc material that sits in between each vertebrae. If the disc material loses it’s juicy-ness, this decreases joint space causing stiffness and loss of joint movement.
Tension headaches are a common result of Forward Head Posture. Often these headaches are felt along the back of the head and can travel to the forehead above the eyes. A big culprit for these types of dull, achy headaches can stem from the suboccipital muscles, which are located under your skull and work to keep your head upright. They become “workaholics” with poor posture and become hypersensitive.
Upper Cross Syndrome
This problem is also commonly associated with another modern day posture known as Upper Cross Syndrome. This is a term that essentially describes what happens when there is an imbalanced tug of war between the muscles on the front and back of your body. When you slouch forward this encourages the muscles in front of our neck and chest to shorten and become weak over time and consequently stretches/over-works the opposite muscles. Most people will complain of stiffness and achiness along the shoulders and back of the neck. It feels good to treat these areas, but it’s important to work on other muscles affecting their tightness.
Not only will this syndrome create muscle stiffness but often blood flow, nerve innervation and airflow are also affected. The shortening of our chest muscles aka your pectoral muscles, will continue to pull the chest inward thereby affecting proper expansion of your rib cage and inhibits your bodies ability to take full breaths. Additionally, the nerves that run through your neck, torso, between the ribs, and through our core can become compressed, lessening their ability to relay signals between our brain and body. For example, the phrenic nerve is an important nerve branching off the spinal cord between the third and fifth vertebrae in the neck. It runs down the neck and branches off to areas around the heart, lungs, and diaphragm. It is the only nerve that supplies signals for our diaphragm to function.
In order to combat the negative effects of upper cross syndrome it is important to address all the muscles involved.
Don’t let this happen to you! 3 Preventative Tips
- In order to help combat these modern day postures, the first step is being aware of your body in space. Set a reminder on your desk, computer or phone to check your posture every 30 minutes. Try to add in a few stretches at these check points to help alleviate tension around the neck.
- Chin tucks are one of the top exercises to prevent the issues of FHP. This is a simple exercise: gently retract your chin backwards, as if you are giving yourself a double chin, hold for 2 seconds and release. Repeat this exercise 8-10 times.
- Be sure to stretch and mobilize the muscles on the front of your neck and chest. Start be extending your head back and bending it to the side of each shoulder, and hold for 30 seconds- 1 minute per side. To target the chest, grab a foam roller, pillow or rolled-up towel and lay on your back with your spine vertically along the roller/pillow/towel. Let your arms fall off to the side, with the elbows bent at 90°. Hold this stretch for 1-2 minutes.
Dr. Nicole Barry completed her Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology with Honours at Western University in London, Ontario. She then continued on to Toronto to successfully obtain her Doctor of Chiropractic at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College.