Living Nutrition Magazine vol. 18 2006
Posture: “An essential nutrient for optimal health.”
by Dr. Samuel A. Mielcarski, PES, DPT
Your mother may have told you more than once, “Stand up straight.” Well, mom was right. Good posture is so important that along] Along with proper food intake, sunshine, temperature, clean water, fresh air, exercise, sleep, emotional poise, and loving relationships, posture may be considered an essential nutrient for optimal health and well-being. Posture may be viewed as your positional attitude in space. How you maintain your body in a particular position (i.e. standing, sitting, lying), may be referred to as your static posture. [How you control] Your control of your your body through space while moving (i.e. walking, bending, exercising), may be considered your dynamic posture. Posture is the position from which movement begins and ends. Your body is made of links, one connected to the other. As the old song goes, “The ankle bone is connected to the shin bone, the shin bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the…” Rehab and fitness professionals often refer to [how one part of the body is connected to the other] this as a “kinematic or kinetic chain.” [This concept explains why] Thus, if you have a stiff and/or painful ankle joint you may also develop problems with your knees, hips, or spine, as one joint affects the way the others function.
Good posture represents a state of muscular and skeletal balance, which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity irrespective of the position in which it is working, while also allowing for optimal functioning of the internal organs. Your musculoskeletal system may be equated as being like a conductor playing with a finely tuned orchestra. Postural balance will lead to efficient movement patterns and internal harmony, and poor posture will lead to pain, dysfunction, and discord. Posture, feeling, and movement are all interconnected. Your posture helps shape your mental, physical, and spiritual attributes. Just like an automobile, if your frame is bent, you will have trouble functioning at your maximum operating potential. [Causes of poor posture are often a result of:] Here are some of the reasons for poor posture: habit (neglect, learned behaviors); faulty movement patterns during exercise, leisure activities, or daily tasks; lack of a variety of different movement (repetitive strain /overuse); occupational or work related; emotional or psychological distress; trauma; scar tissue; genetic (acquired); metabolic; [compensatory] compensation for pain or injury; energy restrictions (i.e. blocks in a chakra, meridian, or energy channel); or from nervous system dysregulation (i.e. stroke, spinal cord injury).
Some common postural faults will now be discussed. One of the most recognizable postural faults in America is a forward head posture. A forward head posture is characterized by a head carriage which is significantly forward in space in relation to the rest of the body. This posture is a great reflection of the fast paced, hectic lifestyle that many people have chosen to [live as] live; it appears as though many people are chasing after their heads but can’t catch up to them because they are moving too quickly. A forward head posture places great stress on the head, neck, jaw, shoulders, and upper back regions, and over time, the lower back may compensate and can become become overstressed as well. As a result of chronic stress to these regions, your health and well-being may become impaired. For example, chronic tension in the back of your head can negatively impact your vision, as the visual cortex is located in the back of your brain. Shortening of the upper neck muscles may also lead to tension headaches, as well as a stiff neck and jaw which can make chewing difficult and [rob] take the pleasure out of eating. A forward head posture can also stress your brainstem region and lead to impaired functioning of your digestive system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system, as well as lead to anxiety, difficulty sleeping, hot flashes, problems with temperature regulation, problems with balance and equilibrium, and difficulty with hormone regulation, as these functions are partially regulated by the brainstem portion of your brain.
A forward shoulder posture (kyphosis) can place increased tension on your upper back and lead to joint pain in this region, as well as progressive stretching and weakening of the muscles between your shoulder blades. This may leave you prone to shoulder problems such as: shoulder pain, muscle spasm, trigger points, pins and needles or numbness in your arms, and rotator cuff muscle tears or injuries. As a result of a forward shoulder posture, the way you move can be altered and you may experience difficulty with turning or moving your head side to side, pushing and pulling movements, and overhead actions with your arms. This can lead to impaired functional mobility, such as difficulty with reaching into a cupboard, or difficulty with performing self-care activities such as grooming, feeding, bathing, and dressing. A kyphotic posture if not treated in time may eventually lead to the dreaded “old lady’s hump.”
A slumped lower back posture (“Pink Panther Syndrome”) or extremely arched lower back (“Donald Duck Syndrome”) can also cause physical stress to your body and lead to health problems. For example, a slumped lower back posture can leave you more prone to developing spinal disc problems (i.e. herniated discs) and lower back pain syndromes. A slumped lower back posture often leads to a depressed chest position that can place stress on your lower ribcage and diaphragm and lead to inefficient breathing and digestive problems. This posture may also place increased stress on your thoracic and abdominal organs, such as your heart, lungs, stomach, and liver, and eventually lead to problems associated with these organs. An overly arched lower back can cause nerve and disc compression syndromes which can negatively impact bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning, as well as lead to lower extremity problems such as muscle strains, degenerative joints, and ruptured ligaments. An arched spine may also eventually give rise to the protruding abdomen or the dreaded “lower pooch syndrome.”
So, how can you fix faulty posture? You first have to become aware of your posture in order to make any necessary corrections. One of the easiest ways to view your own posture is to use a mirror to observe what you look like while you are standing, lying, sitting, or moving. Having a friend or family member take a picture of you or videotaping you may also provide some valuable insights about the current state of your posture. Consulting with a rehabilitation or fitness specialist can give you some clues as to your postural faults and how to correct them as well. There are many techniques available today that are beneficial in correcting postural faults such as body work, movement therapies, corrective exercise, and mind-body integration practices. Some of these techniques include: Alexander Technique, Somatics, Cranio-sacral, Osteopathy, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Massage. A nice resource for many different posture modalities can be found at posturepage.com “Balance: The Video” is another great posture tool which can be found at balancecenter.com Gravity boots or inversion tables can be helpful as well but caution should be used with such devices so as to avoid injury or harm while getting used to these devices.
Some simple prevention measures can also go a long way in helping you maintain good posture and alignment. For example, your posture and movement habits will greatly influence the health of your posture. Being more mindful of the way you read a book, talk on the phone, carry a bag, purse, or briefcase, the way you squat, bend, reach, twist, sleep, sit, walk, run, jump, and do house chores can all influence your postural health and well-being. Every step you take and every move you make can [help] positively add to or [take] detract from your body, mind, and spirit. Since habits can be hard to break, it may take some effort to change your posture and movement habits. It is important to realize that a “position of comfort” is not always equal to a correct posture or movement pattern. You must learn to correlate how you feel with how you look and move. Clothes should also be a consideration. It appears that comfort and support have taken a back seat to fashion in the apparel industry. Your clothes should help support [your posture not detract from it] rather than hinder your posture.. Support does not mean squeezing into a pair of pants or a tight shirt. Restrictive clothing can place undue stress on your nerves, muscles, bones, organs, and blood vessels, and lead to postural deformity over time.
The 1/3-2/3 rule should also be considered. This rule accounts for the fact that you will most likely spend approximately 1/3 of your lifetime sleeping (assuming you are getting approximately 8 hours a sleep a night) and the other 2/3 on your feet. This means [spending money on quality supportive footwear and bedding is worthwhile.] it is worthwhile to spend.your money on quality supportive footwear and bedding. High heels and floppy sandals do not qualify as good footwear. If you allow your feet to collapse (over pronate) while standing or your spine to collapse (sag) while sleeping you will pay the price in the long run. This price is pain, dysfunction, deformity, and decreased quality of life. If only you listened to your mother years ago when she told you to, “Stand up straight” fighting gravity would not seem so hard.
In the figure above there are two examples of poor posture and one showing correct postural alignment. It can be seen how poor posture and body mechanics can lead to significant alteration of muscle tone, organ displacement, [and undue] and put undue stress on the spine and extremity joints.
Dr. Samuel A. Mielcarski, PES, DPT, is a physical therapist who believes in empowering others towards their optimal living potential through fun learning experiences. In 1999, Samuel created The Body DynamicTM, which offers Physical Rehabilitation, Performance/Lifestyle Enhancement, Customized Exercise Programs, and Integrative Bodywork services. Samuel is a raw foodist and an advocate of Natural Hygiene. Samuel currently holds a Performance Enhancement Specialist certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Samuel is a member of the Healthful Living International (HLI), Georgia Organics, American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners (IAHP). His passion for healthy living combined with his sense of humor and practical advice make him a sought after therapist, lecturer, and health consultant. Samuel lives in the Atlanta, Georgia area and can be reached at: (770)518-4463 or drsampt @ gmail.com