Posture is the window to our health, and having poor posture is the root cause of many of our health issues today. American’s who own a computer or media device sit for more than 14 hours a day on average, and recent studies show that if you sit for an average of more than 8 hours a day it can have the same negative effects to our long term health as smoking. This sounds ridiculous of course, however, modern research strongly supports this, hence the new medical term, ‘sitting is the new smoking’.
Poor posture is simply a consequence of repetitive stresses, and the biggest repetitive stress we encounter day in day out is sitting. The number one reason for employee absenteeism in America is musculoskeletal issues. These are caused by poor posture and the compensatory patterns the body adapts from them, such as forward head posture, or what we now call within the health care community, ‘tech neck’. Essentially the more time we spend sitting, such as working at our desks, the greater the risk of poor posture.
The way this happens is due to two main factors, simply put it is due to the majority of what we do today is in front of our bodies, such as looking down at our computers for 40+ hours a week. This creates the dominant, bigger muscles in our bodies such as our chest and shoulders been used to much and over time become dominant over the muscles in the back of our bodies. At the same time this is happening, the muscles that counteract this, which are all of our postural muscles and are responsible for keeping us upright and in good posture, mainly in the front of the neck and between our shoulder blades become weak. Our bodies are very economical, and when we don’t use something consistently, through in-activity such as sitting, the body allows the muscle group to become weak. So as the front of our body’s work to hard and become dominant, the back of our bodies become weak and lazy. This negative cycle over time creates poor posture and as we will discuss at length, poor posture is the root cause of many of our health issues.
Anterior head carriage or forward head posture is a consequence of too much sitting and is synonymous with poor posture. Tension headaches are directly correlated with this condition. Tension Headaches affect 40% of corporate workers in America, and the same studies show that the worse your posture is, the more frequent the headaches. Similar studies show that this also causes proprioceptive issues such as poor balance and vertigo.
Another consequence of having anterior head carriage is the stress and tension it adds to the soft tissue within your neck, causing neck pain. This is because on average the human head weighs 10-12lbs. So as we look forwards the weight of our head slowly pulls our necks out of alignment and over time the stress and tension break the soft tissue down, causing it to become weak and unstable, causing neck pain.
Another complication of this forward head posture is how it can cause disc degeneration within the spine. For every inch forward our head shifts it adds around 12-15lbs of pressure to the spine and discs, about 30-45 lbs on average, this stress and tension over time causes disc degeneration. This degeneration can cause numbness and tingling into the hands and fingers as well as other health issues. In our previous blog post, we discussed the AMA publishing a study stating over 70% of carpal tunnel syndrome is actually an issue deriving from the nerves in our neck been compressed and not an issue within the nerve in our wrist.
Lastly having poor posture affects our homeostasis and how we feel and function on a day to day basis. When we have poor posture, it puts our bodies under a constant state of stress. Our bodies physiological response to stress is to raise and elevate our cortisol levels, which is one of our primary stress hormones. When we have a prolonged period of elevated cortisol levels it affects how we absorb and process other important hormones, such as insulin. When our hormone proliferation and reception is effected we start to see dysfunction in how we feel, specific conditions that affect the thyroid, such as poor metabolism, causing weight gain, poor sleep habits, low energy levels, fatigue, and anxiety. Within the health care system, we call this corporate lifestyle disease. We can make modifications in our day to day routines such as diet changes and nutritional supplementation, however, if you do not address the structure of your spine these conditions struggle to improve. As the great Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said, ‘In sickness and disease, look to the spine first’.
If you are one of the Average Americans that have to sit for over 14 hours a day, then how we sit is vitally important. The repetitive stress of poor posture is the root cause of many of our health issues, which we have just discussed at length, so figuring out ways to sit properly is where we must start. Most forward-thinking companies now have qualified people within HR that will perform ergonomic assessments for you to make sure you are in proper posture, so I would start with speaking to HR and seeing if they can be of help. If HR is unable to do this, doctors at Advanced Health are qualified in performing ergonomic assessments with specific software that will bio-mechanically assess your posture and give real-time feedback. We would be more than happy to come into your company and assess you and your fellow co-worker’s posture and ergonomics. If you would like to assess your own work station set up, then a quick google search for ‘appropriate sitting ergonomics’ will provide you with many images of exactly how you should be spending your day sitting.
We have previously mentioned the term, sitting is the new smoking, so doing less sitting should also be a goal we try to achieve on a day to day basis. This is easily done with acquiring a stand-up desk. In the state of Illinois if a physician provides you with a specific form stating that you require a standing desk for health reasons then your company is required to provide you with one. We encourage all of our patients to speak with their HR department to see if this form is needed, however, many companies now are more than happy to provide you with a stand-up desk as research clearly shows that musculoskeletal health issues affect their bottom line more than anything else. When you have a stand-up desk, do not try and stand all day, as this will also create compensatory issues due to poor posture when standing. Before you start standing have HR perform an assessment to make sure everything is set up correctly. If that is not an option, do a quick google search on ‘stand up desk ergonomics’, and make sure to mimic the appropriate setup. Also, make sure to work into standing for extended periods of time. Start with the last ten minutes of every hour, and then each week as long as no discomfort is felt, add 5-10 minutes until you can split the hour in half between sitting and standing. Lastly, when standing make sure to have an even weight load on each foot, and your pelvis tucked underneath your low back. Many people tend to lean to one side and load one hip with the majority of their weight, this will cause pain in the hips and low back. Also, make sure that you do not have your butt sticking out and hips rocked forwards as this will create stress and tension in the lower portion of your low back and inside of your knees, over time this will cause pain and dysfunction. Lastly make sure your shoulders are down and back, with your shoulder blades flush against your back and not winging out as this will cause upper back pain. Lastly, make sure your ear is directly above your shoulders and chin is a minimum of four fingers off your chest as this will cause neck pain. The alignment of your shoulders and neck should also be performed when sitting.
A great chiropractor once said procrastination is the thief of health. Unfortunately today we are in a health care system that is more reactive than proactive, and we tend to take care of our health concerns when they are an issue and have become a problem. We would all save vast amounts of time, energy and money if we addressed possible health problems before they become an issue. At Advanced Health we educate our patients on the importance of been proactive at work and making sure the muscles we need to support posture are been activated and used every day. Our bodies are designed to be economical, so when we are not using a specific muscle or muscle group, through inactivity it becomes weak and lazy. We also stress the importance of maintaining a healthy range of motion within all of our joints, as once we start to lose flexibility within a joint it creates a negative cycle of compensatory patterns, which over time will break us down and create health issues.
On this note, we recommend to all of our corporate athletes, people like yourself that have to sit for a living to make sure you are making time to spend five minutes each day performing a simple stretch routine and to perform some postural re-education exercises while at work to make sure that the joints within your body have good flexibility and the muscles support us in good posture. If you head to our web site, https://www.southloopchiropractor.com/ and download our guide to ‘getting out of pain’ it will take you through some great stretches and exercises that are easily performed at work. Alternatively, head to our YouTube Channel and view the stretches and exercises we recommend for maintaining good flexibility and posture at work.
If you have been reading this blog and feel that this information is pertinent to you, because you feel you have poor posture or are suffering from some of the symptoms we have discussed we encourage you to give us a call and come in for a new patient exam so we can offer you some non-drug based and surgical free options to get your health issue corrected. Unfortunately, health problems do not just go away on their own, they only get worse over time due to compensation and aging, so the sooner you address your issue the sooner you will get back to living the life you should be, pain-free. If you feel you are not quite at this point, start with the ergonomic recommendations we have discussed and spent some time on our website and youtube channel looking at all of the educational videos demonstrating ways to address many health issues such as headaches, neck pain, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome or sciatica. I hope you enjoyed reading our blog and look forwards to continuing to be a resource for your health and wellness on our next blog, shoulder pain.
Dr. Luke Stringer DC.