The Health Risks of Poor Posture

by Wellness Editor – MH

While growing up, there’s a very good chance your parents reprimanded you more than once about your posture. To be sure, this is a common problem, as both children and adults alike are prone to frequent slouching and slumping. Poor posture, however, is far from just a cosmetic issue; years of hunching over a desk can lead to serious and chronic health issues. The good news is that bad posture habits can be corrected even well into adulthood. By making some conscientious adjustments in the way you sit and walk, and by regularly performing certain muscle-building exercises, you can help protect your body against posture-related aches and pains.

Causes of Bad Posture

Incorrect posture can be linked to a number of culprits. One such reason should sound very familiar to those who have worked office jobs. Employees who spend 8 plus hours daily parked in front of a computer monitor often allow their shoulders hunch and their head to lean forward. This position might make it easier for you to focus on your work, but its long-term murder for your back, neck and shoulders.

Bad posture can also be blamed on both fatigue and foot placement. The relationship between fatigue and posture is pretty self-explanatory. People who are running on short sleep tend to hit a metaphorical wall sometime in the afternoon, and are thus are prone to slouching and slumping in their office chairs.

The effects of foot placement on posture, in contrast, are a bit more ambiguous. Whether standing up or seated, our feet naturally tend to turn inward. Though this may feel normal, this positioning has a chain reaction on the rest of your body, causing to back to slouch and knees to bend. Ideally, your feet should be facing straight forward. If you’re sitting, remember to also keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Another cause of less-than-perfect posture is simply old age. As we get older, our muscles tend to weaken and lose mass. With less muscle support, the body can struggle with propping up the knees and spine.

Impact on Health

The shoulders and back bear much of the burden from poor posture habits. When you slouch your back and hunch your shoulders, the muscles in both areas are forced to work harder to support the spine. This extra effort can cause the muscles to become strained, tight or fatigued.

While leaning forward, many workers unwittingly clench their jaws and constrict their facial muscles. If these mannerisms continue unabted, they can lead to pain in the jaw and headaches. The temporomandibular joint, which enables the jaw to move fluidly and without pain, may also suffer long-term damage.

In addition to causing physical pain, bad posture can also reduce the effectiveness of one of the body’s most important organs. Over time, leaning forward and hunching your shoulders can reduce the amount of air your lungs can store. In some cases, the lung’s air capacity can be diminished by as much as 30 percent. This lack of air not only causes shortness of breath, but also saps your body’s organs and tissues of badly needed oxygen. In a worst case scenario, the patient’s circulatory system might be afflicted by vascular disease, a sort of catch-all term that encompasses peripheral artery disease, aneurisms, kidney artery disease, blood clots and other conditions.

Another part of the body that can be permanently damaged by the way you sit and stand is your spine. A healthy spine exhibits a slight “S” shape, complete with four slight curves. Bad posture puts a heavy amount of strain upon the spine’s vertebrae. Eventually, all of this added pressure can force the spine to curve in unnatural and exaggerated directions.

Fixing Your Posture

While it can be challenging to reverse years of bad posture habits, doing so is by no means an unattainable goal. Below are some useful guidelines that not only protect your body from posture-related injuries, but can also strengthen your back and shoulder muscles.

Sit Properly – We’ve already mentioned some tips for better seating posture in the preceding paragraphs. In addition to keeping your feet firmly planted forward, it is also highly advisable to align your back with the back of your chair. Though it might require some practice, strive to keep your arms bent at a 75 to 90 degree angle. If you are able to do so, try and position your keyboard’s “b” key to be on par with the center of your stomach. This can help prevent your body from sliding into unhealthy sitting positions. Finally, your knees should be positioned at an angle perpendicular to your thighs.

Stand Properly – When it comes to standing, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) encourages people to arrange their neck, head, torso and legs in a straight vertical line. While standing upright, keep your knees somewhat bent and at shoulder-length apart. Try and funnel the weight of your body to the balls of your feet. If you’re forced to stand for an extended period of time, steadily shift your bodyweight back and forth between your toes and heels. Your arms also play a key role in your standing posture; they should be left hanging loosely on the sides of your body.

Walk Straight – It’s easy to fall into bad form while walking. To keep your posture in good standing (pardon the pun), make sure that your head is looking straight forward as you walk. Your hips and shoulders should be lined up as closely as possible.  

Perform Wall Push-Ups – Though they are not as strenuous as traditional push ups, wall push ups can still build muscle mass in your arms, abs and back. Begin by standing two feet away from your chosen wall. With your arms at shoulder height, place your hands on the wall and lean forward in a slow and steady manner. Keep moving until your nose gently touches the wall, and then slowly return to your starting position.

Perform Dead Lifts – Dead Lifts can be rather tricky to get the hang of, but they can pay huge dividends if you are able to master them. Begin this exercise by positioning a barbell directly in front of your body, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat downward and grasp the dumbbell. When grabbing the barbell, it’s important to keep your knees bent and back straight (when you first pick up the barbell, your back should be at a 45 degree angle relative to the ground). Use your legs and knees to lift the bar of the ground.

While lifting the bar, remember to keep your back straight and your head facing forward. Due to poor technique, many people have inadvertently injured themselves by “rounding” their backs while performing dead lifts. Lift the barbell until you are standing straight up, and then carefully return to your starting position. Dead lifts are a classic “compound” exercise, meaning that they work several muscle groups simultaneously (such as the back, glutes, legs and abdominal groups).

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