It may sound silly but posture has a significant impact on pain levels. We don’t think twice about lying in bed or on the couch while surfing the internet or watching TV. But both impact chronic pain. We usually think of posture only when standing or sitting. But every position can affect spinal alignment and the pressure felt in our muscles, joints, ligaments and bones. The more habitual these positions become, the worse the consequences. Proper posture decreases abnormal wear and tear and keeps our bodies working as efficiently as possible.
We all have habits that chip away at maintaining proper alignment.
- Love to work on your belly? This puts incredible strain on your body. Your torso sinks deeper into the bed or couch, causing the back to arch. This is exacerbated in order to hold up your head and chest to read. Arms are used as a lever and get strained as well.
- Sitting on unsupported surfaces like a couch or bed to read and work is an ergonomic nightmare, throwing every body part into disarray.
- Unconsciously standing on one leg. I see this all the time. People often lift a leg while waiting in lines, or writing at a counter. This completely changed the body’s balance.
- Using tools that require us to hunch over and use one arm repetitively such as a vacuum, mop, garden hoe can increase pain.
- Sitting or standing in one position, slumped over to weed, wash dishes, read, or work.
- Not using proper lifting techniques.
These all cause long term problems.
The normal spinal curvature is an “S” when viewed from the side. The neck and the lumbar or lower back are slightly concave where the thoracic and sacral areas are slightly convex. This allows for an equal distribution of weight in order to absorb shock and maintain balance while giving the most flexibility along each vertebra. Poor posture changes this exquisite balance and places excessive stress on the spine over time.
The easiest consequences to see from poor posture is in the back, throwing the “S” curve out of alignment. Slouching forward when sitting or standing increases pressure on the muscles between the shoulder blades, forcing the low back to straighten. This forces the intricate network of muscles, discs and joints to be pushed beyond normal limits to stand erect. Eventually this weakens the entire system, leading to pain. Add lifting to the scenario and injury is inevitable.
Neck pain and headaches
I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating, for every inch the head drops forward an additional ten pounds of weight is exerted on the cervical spine! Just one inch can double the weight your neck feels! This position also stretches the spinal cord and nerve roots and overloads neck muscles that are constantly forced to counterbalance the pull of gravity to maintain this position, causing undo strain on them all.
A pivotal requirement to combating chronic pain is a good night’s sleep. A long day demanding the body to sit, stand, walk and contort into a multitude of positions that improperly loads the spine and muscles all adds up to horrible pain when trying to sleep. Especially if you like to work in a prone position from the couch or bed. If your head, spine and arms aren’t supported it forces your back to arch backwards and the upper body to dangle in the air while straining sensitive neck and head muscles. It all leads to a never ending battle of trying to find a position to sleep that doesn’t exacerbate already inflamed areas. Remember good posture is essential when reclining too. Picking the right mattress and pillows can make a significant difference.
Hunched over, rounded shoulders, and the head falling forward causes muscles in the chest to tighten. This limits the rib cage’s ability to expand, which stops deep, full breaths and leads to shallow, more rapid breathing. The body sees shallow breathing as a sign of concern and goes into a fight or flight mode elevating cortisol and glucose levels and stimulating the heart and muscles as they prepare to react. Slow, long breaths encourage the opposite and restore calm. Studies have shown that those of us with ongoing neck pain or stiff, achy muscles don’t use our respiratory system to its fullest. Something as simple as not breathing could be contributing to our pain and diminishing overall good health.
By standing up straight and maintaining proper spinal alignment we center our weight over our feet and make sure the entire body takes the pressure of staying upright. Often balance therapy can make us aware of poor habits and where we need to focus our attention. Inner ear or ear nose and throat issues, shoes, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, leg length discrepancies, poor core, hip, or lower extremity strength can all affect posture and balance. Check with your healthcare provider.
Hunching forward, especially when sitting, doesn’t just impact the lungs but also compresses the abdominal area which can slow down digestion and cause gastrointestinal complaints as found in GERD, irritable bowel (IBS), or diverticulosis.
Slumping over doesn’t just affect us physically, it also impacts us emotionally. As discussed in past posts, your brain and body have two-way communication, meaning that your mood can impact your posture and your posture can affect your mood. When you’re happy, you may notice that you sit upright, and when you’re feeling down, you’re more likely to slouch or sit in a slumped position. Being mindful of our posture can lead to a myriad of positive benefits including raising self esteem and improving motivation.
Something as simple as maintaining proper posture throughout the day can make a world of difference to those of us who suffer with chronic pain. Add tools that help that endeavor and the relief can be additive.