I was at school and like with most of us, we sat in one spot, reading, writing for long periods of time or playing video games at home whilst the parents don’t notice. Years and years of sitting, reading, looking down… I started getting back and shoulder aches with more and more frequent headaches. Some of my classmates felt similar, but at that time we all thought it was normal. My mom started noticing my posture getting worse year by year and sent me to a physio, which did help improve it slightly. However, during the years of learning about the human body and getting to know our clients at Complete Health, I now understand that posture is much more complicated than just a sitting issue. On a daily life basis, I see clients who sit the whole day with their posture still being great after 10 years of doing it. And then a yoga teacher with great awareness of one’s body comes in with rounded shoulders. So what does our posture depend on?
We are all very different. Noone’s body works the same, we all have various stressors in life from eating habits, to emotional stresses to frequent physical injuries, so let’s discuss some of the factors.
- Physical injuries, especially whiplash. It is common to lose your cervical lordosis (neck curvature) after a road traffic accident. Most of the clients undermine their accidents by saying it was nothing major but then remember their car had been completely written off. First signs of a whiplash injury can occur anywhere from 10mph when driving. We start by losing the mobility/flexibility, continue into weakening and straining of the surrounding muscles and losing the curvature at the end, which draws our necks and heads forwards. It all slowly leads to a worsening of the posture.
- Prolonged sitting, common with office type of jobs and driving. The idea is similar to a whiplash injury, just a slower progression. Head slowly starts leaning forwards, shoulders getting rounded and jaw tension buildup. Many office workers and drivers tend to lose their normal neck curvatures over the years.
- Stress. The change in the posture due to stress is connected with certain signs that come with anxiety/chronic stress. Breathing changes to shallow, mainly concentrating in the upper chest area, which overworks our postural muscles like SCMs and trapezius instead of abdominal breathing. We also tend to slouch when we are nervous /anxious, which over time weakens other posture holding muscles.
- Digestive issues. Very common nowadays are issues that concern our digestive system and involve the liver, stomach, pancreas, bowels etc. Reduced quality of our fruit and vegetables (or not eating them at all), low-quality meat, dairy products and high sugar foods, low-quality oils are a great recipe for digestive failure and toxin build-up. You start feeling that sense of heaviness in the front of your chest, cramps, sense of fullness every time you eat, that is a sign your body is struggling. It tends to take some pressure off the digestive discomfort if we lean forward/slouch. If digestive issues are not taken care of, we tend to get used to that posture over time.
- Technology use. This one is not a surprise. Just look around you when walking on the street or waiting for a bus. Everyone is on their phones, heads down, middle back curved. Sometimes I notice some very serious postures and wonder how do these people manage their daily lives like that.
- Footwear. This goes both ways. Very flat shoes and very high heels are both known to change the biomechanics of our bodies. People with high heels tend to lean forwards more and those with very flat shoes tend to put too much pressure onto their heels, upsetting the spinal discs over years.
- Genetics. There are 10-20% of people who take after their parents or grandparents and have specific characteristics like hyperkyphosis (too much middle back curvature), scoliosis (curvature in the spine), dowagers hump (most commonly comes with hyperkyphosis or specific medication use) and hip abnormalities.
- Breathing techniques, particularly mouth breathers. Studies have correlated mouth breathing with postural abnormalities and suggest that the obstruction/narrowing of the pharyngeal air space possibly leads to forward head projection. It then causes further postural changes. With altered head positions, changes in muscles like the scalene, sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius muscles might occur. These specific muscles are normally associated with overuse in response to nasal obstruction.