Good posture will do more than impress your mother

July 4, 2010

Stop slouching, sit up straight, and take notice…because here is one more thing your mother was right about: Posture does matter.

 

A team of physicians and researchers recently reported “Posture affects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to hormonal production.”

 

On a strictly mechanical basis, it is easy to understand how abnormal posture can result in degenerative processes such as arthritis and disc disease.  Just as tires and mechanical parts will gradually be destroyed by an automobile which is out of alignment, our body parts will be worn out by the asymmetrical stresses of abnormal posture.


To fully appreciate the profound effects that posture has on the entire body, we must consider the body’s master control system- the brain and nerves.  Medical textbooks confirm that the purpose of the brain and nerve system is to control and coordinate all other systems, organs and tissues of the body.  Research shows that abnormal posture increases stress and strain on the nerve system.  According to medical periodicals Spine and the Journal of Neurosurgery, these increased stresses deteriorate the normal ability of the brain and nerve system to send messages to, or receive information from, the rest of the body.  This is because the stress of abnormal posture increases pressure on, and decreases blood supply to, the spinal cord and nerves.  Additionally, according to neurosurgeon and researcher Alf Breig, M.D., abnormal postural patterns interfere with the natural healing ability of the central nervous system.

 

Is it enough then to simply sit up straight and stop slouching your shoulders?  Certainly, it is important to be conscientious of posture in our daily activities.  However, the postural faults which are most harmful are those we can’t control.  Irregular spinal alignment causes these involuntary postural abnormalities.  Such damaging spinal changes may result from traumatic events (i.e. athletic injuries, automobile accidents), or the spinal changes may develop gradually as a result of many micro-traumas and the use of inefficient body mechanics in the performance of daily routines.

 

Proper posture requires that, when viewed from the front on X-ray, the bones of the spine should appear as a very straight column.  When viewed from the side on X-ray, it is very important that gentle forward curvatures appear in the neck and lower back regions while a rearward curvature is expected in the mid-back. These normal curvatures provide the body with a natural suspension system, reducing stress on muscles, bones, and nerve structures.

 

One of the spinal conditions that often develops in childhood is scoliosis which refers to a  lateral curvature of the spine. In other words, when you look at somebody from the back there appears to be an “S” shape to their spine rather than the bones being stacked straight one on top of the other.

 

The prevalence of scoliosis among school-age children  is 3-5% and most commonly it is diagnosed during adolescence, around the onset of puberty. This type of scoliosis is known as adolescent idiopathic (having no known cause) scoliosis and it is more common in females, especially if there is a family history.  Progression of this curvature most frequently occurs between 12-16 years of age and can be especially rapid during a growth spurt. Once the spinal bones have stopped growing (perhaps as late as 25 years of age), progression of the scoliosis is unlikely.

 

A detailed postural examination is critical in determining the existence of scoliosis.  This should be performed by a trained physician who specializes in spinal conditions.  One needs to evaluate the positioning of the skull, neck, shoulders and shoulder blades, the rib cage, the waist, the pelvis, the knees and feet not only for positional symmetry from right side to left side but also for their relationship to one another.  For example, does the head appear to be tilted so one ear looks higher than the other, does one shoulder look higher or one hand hang lower, do the legs appear to be the same length when laying down?

 

Doctors of chiropractic specialize in the detection and correction of spinal irregularities that produce harmful involuntary postural imbalances such as scoliosis.  Chiropractors who focus on postural correction typically begin with a thorough physical exam and standing spinal X-rays to identify abnormal spinal patterns.   When diagnosing scoliosis, one needs to identify the exact site and the degree and flexibility of the curvature and assess for bone maturity to determine the likelihood of progression.  Curvatures that are less than 20 degrees can be conservatively managed with chiropractic spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapy, and exercise.

The goal of all scoliosis treatment is to stop the progression of the curvature so as to avoid the possibility of bracing or spinal surgery.  If scoliosis is allowed to progress, not only will it produce a structural, cosmetic deformity that will likely promote arthritic changes as time progresses, but with advanced curvatures compromises to the function of organs such as the heart and lungs may actually have severe , life-altering consequences.

 

So, there is an old saying “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Ones posture in many ways dictates the functioning of their spine and nervous system- the lifeline of their body.  It is never to early to have a spinal and postural examination, and yes, “Good posture will do more than impress your mother”!

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