Hunched shoulders, sloped lower back and text necks – these seem like not a big deal, especially if exercising regularly and moving around a lot. What’s the worst that could happen? A little back pain? The reality is more complicated. The human body is closely interconnected and a seemingly minor thing as posture can have a massive impact on overall health. Here’s what could happen if posture is neglected.
What is poor posture Ideally the body should be aligned in a specific manner when it’s in a neutral position – the head should be above the shoulders and the torso aligned with hips. This encourages a neutral spine, a position where 3 spinal curves (cervical, thoracic and lumbar) are maintained. Life interferes and we have to sit on uncomfortable chairs, wear ill-fitting shoes and stare at phones and computers for hours. These activities change the body’s shape and alignment. Health problems appear when this misalignment persists.
Poor posture results Here’s a brief list
Lung Capacity Poor posture has a direct negative impact on the musculoskeletal system – several specific orthopedic issues that stem from a misaligned body are listed below. Bad posture affects many seemingly unrelated functions – breathing is an example. How does poor posture influence breathing? The negative effect can be observed across 2 measures: lung capacity and breathing force. Both measures are largely controlled by the diaphragm – a large flat muscle located right below the lungs dividing the abdomen from the chest. To inhale and exhale fully the diaphragm requires enough space to contract and relax with each breath. When the spine isn’t properly aligned and is compressed this compromises breathing efficiency. A forward head posture affects breathing capacity by compressing the lungs according to research published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. When a person’s default position is with the head forward it’s more difficult to breathe. This condition is known as “text neck,” as it often occurs in those who use smartphones a lot.
Jaw Pain Have you ever heard of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)? This common condition occurs when the temporomandibular joints, the 2 joints connecting the jawbone to the skull at the temples, are misaligned. TMJ often occurs as a result of poor spinal posture that changes the alignment of the bite pattern. Over time poor posture puts a lot of pressure on the temporomandibular joints and they can spasm, cramp or lock as a result. TMJ causes jaw pain and difficulty speaking and eating (especially in foods requiring chewing a lot).
Heartburn/Digestion Check posture if experiencing heartburn though you didn’t eat anything particularly acidic or fatty. Sitting hunched over after a meal triggers heartburn and acid reflux. Slouching compresses the abdomen which pushes stomach acid into the esophagus. Take a short walk immediately after a meal if you notice posture affecting digestion. This will make you stand upright and counteract the negative effects of slouching.
Bowel health According to Harvard Health “Poor posture on a toilet – hunched over with knees lower than hips – promotes constipation.” A hunched posture makes the abs work harder when passing stools.
Circulation The importance of good blood circulation to long-term health can’t be overstated. Slouching leads to a range of circulation issues such as varicose veins and high blood pressure. “Sitting for long periods contributes to poor circulation, putting pressure on the spine, pelvis and vital organs like the bladder and prostate” said Isa Herrera, physical therapist in New York City.
Fatigue and Negative Mood Tired and grumpy though you’ve been sitting on the couch all day? Posture may be the culprit. When the body is in a slouched unnatural posture for a long time muscles have to work hard and joints and ligaments sustain a lot of strain. Improving posture has the opposite effect as shown by a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Research found good posture “reduces fatigue and self-focus in those with mild-to-moderate depression.”
Bladder Sitting for extended time or in poor posture leads to stress incontinence, a type of incontinence where a person leaks a small quantity of urine coughing, sneezing or laughing. “Slouching increases abdominal pressure which puts pressure on the bladder. The position decreases the ability of the pelvic floor muscles to hold against that pressure” stated Meghan Markowski, physical therapist. Sitting with lower back tilted forward puts continuous excessive pressure on the bladder making bathroom trips more frequent.
Intimacy A specific type of poor sitting posture called sacral sitting affects sexual health in men and women. This refers to sitting with a rounded lower back or slumped. This posture tightens the pelvic floor muscles which contributes to weaker ejaculations and reduced performance in men and weak orgasms in women.
Arthritis/Joint Pain Poor posture exacerbates these symptoms. Arthritis in practically any joint or part of the body – shoulders, hips, neck, knees or spine – gets worse from poor posture. For instance a forward head position leads to a pinched nerve and poor lower back posture puts more pressure on knees. Although these mobility and wellbeing changes may not be noticed, they’re cumulative – they accumulate and get worse over time.
Neck Pain/Headaches When shifting the neck forward the head ends in front of the vertical midline of the spine, no longer aligned with shoulders and midline which strains neck muscles and cervical joints. This leads to pinched nerves, muscle spasms and neck pain. The text neck posture causes dizziness or tension headaches. Since the neck muscles have to work extra hard to keep the head looking forward they get tight and contribute to tension and head pain. Over time this posture increases neck inflammation contributing to headaches.
Spine/Ribs Chest wall muscles tighten when sitting with shoulders rounded and hunched forward for hours. This leads to rib and sternum pain. Hunching or slouching to one side while sitting compresses spinal muscles and damages vertebral discs. Over time this contributes to back pain, vertebral fractures and pinched nerves resulting in back and shoulder pain.