What is "Bad Posture"?
Firstly, let’s think about this – what does it mean to have “good posture”?
In order to have “good posture” your body must comfortably be able to hold itself in a position whereby all of your bones and joints are aligned properly. It prevents excessive strain on the musculoskeletal system (ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints and discs of the spine), and avoids an imbalance of ligaments and muscles whereby some become tighter and shorter, and others become weakened and longer.
Bad posture is the opposite of this, and can affect your health in many ways. It is commonly associated with symptoms of back pain, pain in the neck, shoulders and hips, headaches, and general fatigue or tiredness. It can also make you look shorter than you are, fatter than you are, (yes, really), and make other existing issues you might have worse – like heartburn!
Is Bad Posture Bad For Your Health?
Bad posture can have many effects on your health. If your body is working hard to maintain a certain shape (or posture) then it is spending too much energy. Eventually, this posture will cause pain – aching, burning, dull, toothache-like pain.
This type of pain is typically felt in the shoulders of people who sit with bad posture, or in the lower back of people who stand with bad posture. Sometimes the opposite is true.
Bad posture also causes you to become more tired, more easily, or you might even feel fatigued all of the time. This way of using your body is not efficient – it is what we call ‘metabolically expensive’.
In addition, sitting bent over all day, slumped, with bad posture makes it very difficult for your diaphragm to move – so you start to breathe ineffectively too, and use the muscles of your neck to get more air in – again, this is metabolically expensive and an inefficient way of functioning.
Osteopaths believe that movement is very important in the body. When we breathe, the abdominal organs, which have slippery coverings so their surfaces can glide nicely over each other, are also restricted in their movement. So digestion can slow, and the functions of the organs like the liver and spleen can start to become a little bit static. Whether or not this has an effect on overall health, the verdict is yet to be proven one way or another.
A Quick Experiment...
Feel the burn of a ‘metabolically expensive’ activity.
Fill a glass half full with water, or even use an empty glass if you like. Hold it out in front of you, at arms length away from your body, about 90 degrees parallel to the floor. How long does it take for your arm to start aching? That’s the muscles fatiguing. It doesn’t take long, does it?
You can easily understand why aches and pains manifest in the body if it is having to do something that takes a lot of energy like this.
Can Bad Posture Cause Headaches?
Yes. Headaches are a common side effect of bad posture – in fact they are particularly common with something called ‘forward head posture’.
And this is why – the head weighs approximately 5kgs. And for every 1 inch / 2.5 cms forward your posture is, your neck has to combat an extra 4.5kgs!
If you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a shop window, you might notice that you have forward head posture. Kind of looking like a turtle.
(We’ve written a different post about this, which you can check out by clicking the button below).
Is Bad Posture Permanent?
Generally speaking – No. For most people, bad posture can be somewhat reversible.
Using your body in a certain way over long periods of time means that some muscles will be stronger than they should, and some muscles will be weaker than they should be. As osteopaths, we believe that the way you use your body governs and dictates the way it develops.
However, having said that, that there are many things you can do to improve bad posture, however bad it is and however long you have had it for, if you know what to do to reverse it.
When we are talking about bad posture here, we are not talking about your inherited genetic shape. The shape of your spine and body is a combination of genetics and the way you have used your body over a long period of time. Bad posture is not genetic.
It’s easy to get “bad posture” confused with “spinal shape”, and the two are quite different.
(Important note: We are not talking here about something called Scoliosis – a particular condition of the spine that causes it is have an exaggerated curve or rotation.)
Whoever you are, and whatever your spinal shape is, you can have good posture and bad posture. For this reason, we believe bad posture is reversible.*
*to a certain extent – email, us if you want to discuss this at length, but for the purposes of this blog it would take a long time to elaborate.
What Can Be Done To Help Poor posture?
Avoid fancy contraptions!
There are many interesting looking straps and devices out there which allegedly help give you better posture at your desk, home computer or workstation. But unless it is easy for the muscles to hold you in a particular position, you’ll never maintain these positions. It just takes too much energy. (Remember the experiment with the glass of water above?)
It might take a lot of hard work, but most people can improve their postures significantly. The key here is doing enough rehabilitation so that this new improved posture becomes your new ‘normal’ posture. If you’ve had bad posture for many years, then it is going to take quite a while to re-train your body to work in a different manner automatically.
In other words, it’s not going to happen over night. But with time, perseverance and effort, yes, you can reverse posture (to enough of a degree to be pain-less or pain free, anyway).