Posture is one of the first things an osteopath will look at in any patient visiting the clinic. It can reveal many things about a person such as their physical condition, mood and bad habits. It goes some way to explain why some people suffer with certain injuries and in a proactive sense also allows an osteopath to predict and prevent potential future injury sites throughout the body. Posture can be influenced by many things. Everybody’s posture has a strong genetic element to it, as our body shape often resembles our parents. However, there are environmental influences that occur throughout our infancy, during our school years and into adulthood which we will discuss in this editorial.
POSTURE FROM BIRTH When we are born the only curve we have in our back is the flexed ‘kyphotic’ (forward) curve that has been the dominant foetal position in the womb. At about three months old as a baby lifts its head, a secondary cervical ‘lordotic’ curve (small curve in the neck) begins to form. As the child begins to sit, stand and walk, the curve of the lumbar spine starts to develop. This is the beginning of our future adult posture.
CHILDHOOD This is a vital stage, as bones are growing, muscles are becoming stronger and the nervous system is developing movement patterns to enable normal daily function. From four years old we start studying at school, sitting in slumped positions whilst reading and writing at desks that are not necessarily the correct height. Lockers for school children are not available at all schools and heavy equipment is often carried around all day. The fashion of the time will dictate what type of bag will be used and how it will be carried; evenly over both shoulders (ideally) or more often, slung over one shoulder causing muscle imbalances and strain on the back, neck and shoulders. An individual’s body will develop according to the stresses placed upon it; in a positive or negative way. Some form of regular exercise is vital in creating a strong, healthy and functional body that can adapt its posture. It also gives the individual body awareness, core strength and develops an understanding of what a strong, well supported and flexible spine should feel like. If this is developed in childhood it is more likely to be maintained throughout life and reduce the risk of postural related back pain.
TEENAGE POSTURE Peer pressure can be a big issue and confidence can either soar or be at an all time low. It is common to see self-conscious people walk with their head down and rounded shoulders. This is not unusual for teenagers who have had a growth spurt earlier than their peers and are trying to disguise it. These learnt postural habits can have dramatic effects for the coming years. Sport and active hobbies often reduce as priorities change and socialising becomes more important. ‘Computer hump’ is a familiar sight to many parents with a teenager into gaming. With the surge of computer technology over the past two decades, more and more time is spent sitting in slumped, unsupported positions. Inactivity reduces muscular strength and the spinal joints do not get used to their potential. Symptoms arising in teen years will tend to be mild warning signs such as low back or neck ache, headaches and general stiffness. However as the spine is ossifying (hardening) to an adult shape, poor posture at this stage can create problems later on. Get your teenagers posture checked by a qualified Osteopath.
SUFFERING FROM POOR POSTURE AS AN ADULT Adults spend an estimated 80% of their life working. It is at work that most postural problems will occur. Whether it is a sedentary office based job, labouring, dentistry, teaching or hairdressing, we all have our bad, lazy habits. All occupations require a degree of repetitive movement that if unchecked contribute to muscle imbalances and postural stresses over time. Symptoms can arise due to the body’s compensatory mechanisms failing or being used to their absolute maximum, leaving tissues such as muscle, ligaments and joints open to damage. There is often less time available to devote to oneself to exercise as children, work and other responsibilities take precedence; but it is most vital at this time of life to keep muscles strong and healthy to enable the body to cope with the physical stresses placed repetitively on the spine.
AS YOU GET OLDER Arthritis is commonly responsible for aching joints and restricting lifestyles of retired people. It is heavily influenced by past posture. Less energy, more time spent sitting, and reducing the amount of exercise undertaken can lead to a vicious cycle of reduced cardiovascular fitness, joint stiffness and muscle weakness. Even if a joint is painful, doing less does not mean we should feel less pain. Often it is quite the opposite as movement is essential for synovial joint health. To keep the joint surface nourished, complete wiping of the entire joint surface is needed. This is achieved by taking each joint safely through its entire range of movement.(something an osteopath can help with very effectively). If an area of a particular joint has been over used through repetitive movement or through poor posture, osteo-arthritic changes are more likely to manifest there. Shoulder joint problems occur frequently due to rounded shoulders with kyphotic (stooped) thoracic postures, as the shoulder joints are not working in their optimum position. The joint will be excessively wearing the surface in a certain area. This theory can be applied to any joint in the body (including the spine) and it highlights how important good posture is for future well-being and joint health and how pro-active osteopathic care may prolong and improve joint function well into later life. Look out for common postural symptoms:
Aching shoulders or neck
Thoracic (mid back) pain
Low back ache
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Regular exercise, stretching and strengthening – Every person is individual and the type of exercise that suits each person and their problem varies accordingly. An Osteopath will be able to advise the best type of exercise. Our advice is always specific to the individual and specific to the injury. We never give a ‘one size fits all’ exercise sheet.
Regular breaks at work – every 20 minutes you should be looking to get up and walk, even for a few minutes to change position.
Work ergonomics – The set up of your work station, including the chair height, computer positioning, lifting and standing advice is vital to prevent postural problems. Our Osteopaths are trained in optimising work place ergonomics.
Having an Osteopathic assessment – an Osteopath will assess the alignment of the spine and if there are restrictions in joints which may be contributing to the pain or poor posture can correct them often quickly and effectively. Treatment is gentle and applied at a rate that takes into account the age and fitness of the individual. Call on 01270 759 491 to book an appointment with one of our highly skilled Osteopaths.