I’ve always been jealous of my friends who took ballet when they were younger. I look enviously at their ballerina-straight backs, perfect posture and clean, graceful lines as they move. Next to them, I look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. At work, for instance, no matter how hard I try to sit upright, I find myself falling back into the comfortable slouch I’m accustomed to — but lately, that slouch has been causing me neck pain.
Bad posture can lead to number of ailments, including lack of energy, pain, reduced breathing, poor appearance and lower immunity. Dr. Guy Bahar at the Posture Clinic explained that the human head weighs about eight percent of the total body mass — with every inch the head moves forward, its weight doubles and the muscles in the neck, shoulders and upper back are forced to contract excessively to support the head in the strained position. When the muscles are overworked, pain and fatigue can result.
I was surprised to learn that Forward Head Posture (FHP) — characterized by the forward displacement of the head over the chest causing the shoulders to round forward — affects at least 66 percent of Canadians. About 95 percent of people who suffer from headaches or neck pain are sufferers of FHP. The FHP-typical rounded shoulders can cause compression of the chest cavity, which reduces air capacity in the lungs and oxygen intake. When muscles are worked beyond their oxygen capacity, lactic acid is formed in the muscle and the resulting effects are cramping and pain in the shoulders and neck, and in the form of headaches.
FHP can cause lower immunity as well. It causes tension in the spinal cord, which interferes with the messages sent from the spine through to the side branches of the sympathetic nervous system — the part of our autonomic nervous system that controls heart rate, breathing, digestion, hormone release and defense cells for immunity.
To combat bad posture (without putting on a tutu), Dr. Bahal recommends these four easy tips:
1. Treat your mobile devices as if they are hazardous to your health
Bring mobile devices closer to your face, rather than looking down at them when you’re texting, and use the hands-free function when you’re talking on your cell phone. Always use laptops in an ergonomic position, as you would a desktop computer. Limit time spent on these devices — take a minute every hour to stand up, stretch and move around.
2. Limit the weight of bags
Purses, computer bags and backpacks should amount to no more than 15 percent of your body weight, a rule of thumb that particularly applies to children and teens with backpacks loaded with textbooks. Placing additional weight on the upper back and shoulders further exaggerates FHP by pushing the shoulders and neck into a forward position.
3. Use active stretching
Engage in strength-building exercises such as yoga, weight training or Pilates to build the strength in your abdomen, upper back, lower back, hips and buttocks. The stronger your muscles are, the better able you will be to hold your body in a healthful position. Also, try to do a short stretching routine before beginning a long stint on the computer or a long drive.
Here is a simple exercise to do: Stand with your back and heels against a wall. Lift your shoulders up and roll them back and down to touch the wall, all the while keeping the back of your head pressed against the wall. Try rolling the shoulders upwards until they almost touch the ears.
4. Have a posture check-up
Get yourself assessed by a professional — your MD or a chiropractor. It’s hard to change something when you’re not aware of it. These specialists will be able to assess the problem areas and implement techniques on how to get better posture.
Dr. Guy Bahar, B.Sc., D.C., has been a practicing chiropractor for 19 years and specializes in FHP corrective treatment using the Bahar Posture Training method . For more information, visit The Posture Clinic.