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Bad posture doesn't happen overnight. It's a gradual process. Bad posture is a response to how you hold your body in various positions, such as sitting, slouching and standing. After a period of time, your posture muscles become weak and other muscles take over the work, making it comfortable to slouch.

Your body responds to your bad postural habits, and soon begins to adapt to these habitual poses until they begin to feel "normal ", making it comfortable to slouch and end up with all kinds of aches and pains - because your back muscles are overworked and overstretched.

Typical problems relating to bad posture include backache, headaches, muscle fatigue and strain. Even the position and function of major organs can be affected by bad posture.

The common manifestations of bad posture are swayback (a large curve in the back) and slouching, where everything moves forward and rolls in. Computer use is the cause of a significant number of injuries related to posture and positioning. High-heeled shoes, boots, tight clothing and wide belts also shift our center of gravity and move us out of normal alignment.

Many people go through life without giving much thought to their posture. That is, until they need a hip or knee replacement, develop osteoporosis or until their body sends a clear, undeniable message in the form of pain that joints were overworked and other muscles were underutilized.

Gregg J. Carb, a chiropractor and author of "The Science of Sitting Made Simple," says proper posture is essential to good health because it helps evenly distribute stress and strain on the body. And it's as much an issue for the youth carrying a heavy backpack to school as it is for senior citizens.

Most people think posture comes into play only when the body is in motion. However, that's a common mistake many people make. Posture is important for almost everything we do, whether it's sleeping, sitting, standing, playing sports, lifting, carrying or setting down objects, or being involved in most other activities.

"It's a bigger public health issue than most people realize," says Carb, who also studies ergonomics. "The disc pressures in the spine are greater sitting and slouching forward than any other position."

The damaging effect of poor posture can trigger rapid deterioration and degeneration on the body, especially on smaller limbs, Carb says

DEFINING PROPER

So what's the difference? Slouching shoulders, lowered head and locked knees are signs of poor posture. Proper posture evenly distributes the body's weight. Keep feet slightly apart, knees straight, shoulders back and chin slightly tucked in.

There's a psychological benefit to maintaining good posture, according to Carb. People who maintain proper posture are perceived on a subconscious level as being more healthy and their upright frame carries a more youthful appearance, he says.

Susanne Baum, a Pilates instructor from Cherry Hill, equated good posture to proper alignment of a car.

"People don't realize that when your body is in alignment, it then runs at peak efficiency," Baum says. She pointed out that a car that needs an alignment won't run well even if you've properly inflated the tires and washed, waxed and detailed it.

"When one part is out of alignment, then the rest of the parts have to work overtime. That's why, in our society, parts wear out," Baum says, citing hip and knee replacement as examples. "We're not supposed to have body parts that wear out. The first thing to look at when people have pain is to look at alignment."

HEALTH PROBLEMS

Headaches, muscle pain and atrophy and difficulty breathing are some of the health problems that can result from bad posture, Baum says.

It also has been linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease when the body builds up too much lipase as a result of sitting for extended periods, Carb says. Lipase is an enzyme that aids in digestion.

It not only is an issue for the older crowd. Children put themselves at risk of slipping into poor posture by not carrying their backpack properly or simply overloading it. A backpack's weight should not exceed more than 15 percent of a child's body weight, yet many are toting loads two to three times that amount, says Dr. Sigmund Miller, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Chiropractors.

"If they're not carrying it properly, it forces them into an awkward or improper posture," Miller says.

WHY IT'S IMPORTANT

The human body is supported by the spine, which has three natural curves that work as shock absorbers.

Sleeping on a quality mattress and proper use of pillows can provide enough support for the body when it assumes positions and postures that can otherwise be very damaging, Miller says.

People spend a considerable amount of time sitting at a desk in school or an office so it's important that chairs provide support for the lower back and the computer screen is at an appropriate height.

Miller says posture is important because it "helps us to do the things we do every day and feel better about it."

He says the importance of proper posture goes largely ignored by many people because of the fast pace of life. Few individuals take time to stretch and exercise, two simple activities that contribute to maintaining health and good posture as well as flexibility, which all help people stay active.

Posture for a Healthy Back: What is Good Posture

What is good posture?

Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or laying down. Good posture involves training the body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments.

Proper posture:

  1. Keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.
  2. Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces.
  3. Decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together.
  4. Prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions.
  5. Prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
  6. Prevents backache and muscular pain.
  7. Contributes to a good appearance.

Proper posture requirements:

  1. Good muscle flexibility
  2. Normal motion in the joints
  3. Strong postural muscles
  4. A balance of muscles on both sides of the spine
  5. Awareness of your own posture, plus awareness of proper posture which leads to conscious correction.

With much practice, the correct posture for standing, sitting, and lying down (as described below) will gradually replace your old posture.

What is the correct way to stand?

  1. Hold your head up straight with your chin in. Do not tilt your head forward, backward or sideways.
  2. Make sure your earlobes are in line with the middle of your shoulders.
  3. Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling.
  4. Keep your shoulders back, your knees straight and your back straight.
  5. Tuck your stomach in. Do not tilt your pelvis forward.
  6. The arches in your feet should be supported.

What Does Your Posture Tell Others?

Your mother was correct. Your posture matters.

Even at a distance, your posture is the first thing others notice. Does yours say you're confident, certain and self-assured? Or does it disclose that you're fearful, unsure or timid?

Your posture concerns us. Not because it can sabotage your next business deal, make your clothes fit poorly or stall your golf game. We're interested because it profoundly affects your overall health.

We are constantly adapting to gravity. Those in outer space, who temporarily escape its influence, start wasting away. Their bones become frail and their muscles weaken. Their strength and vitality decline.

Here on earth, we use huge amounts of energy adapting to gravity. Just standing erect requires the coordination (by your nervous system) of 200 muscles. No wonder those with poor posture complain of being tired!

It all starts with the energy that flows over your nerves. Muscles only contract, moving bones, when commanded by your nervous system. Postural distortions are signs your nervous system is compromised.

Your posture reveals the integrity of your nervous system.

Your eyes monitor the horizon, giving feedback to your brain (nervous system) to keep you upright. Fluid in your inner ear constantly supplies information (nervous system) about your balance and position. Pressure sensors on each foot (nervous system) send data up the spine so you can stand without falling.

Bones are the structural components of your body. They can't move, dislocate or become malpositioned without muscles pulling on them. Sometimes muscles will stay contracted when they shouldn't. This is called a muscle spasm. Postural problems usually follow.

Every day we help people enjoy the relief they seek by consulting our office. But they also benefit from better balance, graceful movement and increased vitality because of their chiropractic care. Since many postural distortions begin in childhood, it's especially important to have your children checked.

How do postural distortions get started?

A: Your posture is a window into the condition of our nervous system. It reveals how we adapt to stress. Common examples include uncorrected physical stresses from the birth process, childhood sports injuries, automobile accidents and even unresolved emotional pressures. Our body assumes a defensive, protective posture.

What are the early signs of postural problems?

A: During our examination we look for the head tilting to one side, forward head carriage, a lowered shoulder or a hip that has improperly rotated. We also look at the way you walk, unusual shoe wear or a leg that appears contracted. We encourage parents to have their children evaluated so these same issues don't become engrained patterns early on.

Is arthritis and posture related?

A: Arthritis or spinal decay can result from an abnormal, long-standing adaptation to gravity. The body deposits calcium on malfunctioning joint surfaces in an attempt to shore up or "splint" the joints. Bone spurs, and eventually fusion, can result.

© 2005 Patient Media, Inc

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