“Sit up straight, stop slouching!” This is the familiar nagging of well-intentioned mothers and grandmothers. While the purpose of this gentle annoyance is probably based more on influencing their charges to make good impressions, the reality is that posture is an extremely important aspect of health.
Posture is the window to the spine. It has everything to do with spinal health. It is an indicator of how healthy our spines are. It is a window into past traumas (slips, falls, injuries, and even emotional traumas), bad sleeping habits, work, and play habits.
A healthy spine requires a balanced relationship with gravity. The latest research suggests that even an inch of displacement away from our center of gravity in any direction – one shoulder higher than the other, one hip more forward than the other, the head closer to one shoulder than the other – can cause 25 pounds worth of gravitational pull of the spinal joints. Because of Wolff’s Law and the Heuter-Volkmann Principle, over time, the body reacts to this uneven pulling and stress by laying down nature’s stabilizing glue, which is also known as arthritis.
While most people are not aware of the importance of being symmetrical and are often not aware that they have postural and therefore spinal imbalance, but once you start looking at posture for symmetry, it is easy to see examples of this all around us. Does Mary always look at you with her head turned more to one side or another? Are Fred’s shoulders always hunched forward? Does John always hem his pants shorter on one side? Does Ellen walk with her torso forward of her hips? Balance and symmetry are easy to assess. From front to back, shoulders should be perfectly level, as should be the top of the hips and the bones under the earlobes. From the side, the middle of the ear should line up over the middle of the shoulders, and the shoulder should line up over the greater trochanter of the leg (the big bump where your leg attaches to your hip) and over this should be the middle of the knees and ankles. Anything less than this indicates a postural distortion, which 95% of the time will show up in the spine as a global subluxation on an X-ray. Global subluxations are patterns of vertebral movement away from the gravity line. If the global subluxation has been there a while, these bones are in some phase of degenerative joint disease.
Bad posture will also create spinal problems over time. Take for example, the child hunched over his device; many parents can relate. Rather than being outside playing, more often than not children are hunched over devices for hours at a time. Is this a big deal? Yes it is. What we spend hours doing will, without a doubt, show up in our bodies and our spines. The spine is a living system, always adapting to create stability. If we put it in unnatural, asymmetrical positions for hours at a time, we can expect the spine to adapt to this, shortening the ligaments of the hunched or concave side and lengthening the ones on the stretched side of the posture.
Unfortunately, as in the case of bad sleeping habits, some of these positions we are in for eight hours a night. In the case of John, he sleeps with a pillow that is too small when he is on his side and this causes him to bend his neck all night long. In the morning, it feels normal for him to look at the world with his head cocked slightly to one side. But it does not feel normal to his spine. Over time, gravity will cause joint degeneration in the area of the most focused gravitational stress. John may not even know this is happening until the degeneration and arthritis are quite progressed. But sometimes people can feel the stress and it comes out in the form of aching, tight muscles, or even joint pain.
Another misunderstanding about posture is that it’s easily corrected, “Just sit up and stand up straight!” While it is fairly easy to instill posture habits in children, once we have learned bad posture habits, or adapted in unsymmetrical ways to injuries, it is difficult to undo them just with conscious control.
Try this experiment. Look in the mirror and check your own symmetry. If you see something that is not level, like your shoulders or your head, try to get them level and then walk away from the mirror. Have someone time how long you can maintain a corrected posture. Most people can only maintain conscious control of their posture for a minute or two before they get distracted and their posture reverts back to the way it was before.
Thankfully, people don’t have to wait until nature’s glue destroys their spines to get symmetrical again. There is another way. The researchers at CBP NonProfit, Inc. have quantified methods of restoring posture and spinal alignment using mirror image adjusting and traction to correct posture and spinal distortion, restoring proper brain body communication and stability so people feel and heal more optimally. This exciting work is opening up a whole new set of options for people with postural distortions – even those with dowager humps and moderate scoliosis can be greatly helped. I recently heard the term “text neck,” and it sends a kind of shiver down my spine, thinking of a whole generation of young adults travelling down the path of major neck and spine problems starting at such a young age. We have to live in these bodies a long time. Best we take care of them. Create sustainable habits and correct the bad ones we already have before that glue sets in. I guess our grandmas knew what they were talking about after all.