We all remember our parents or grandparents telling us to “sit up straight” and “correct your posture.” We know that having good posture is a positive but how seriously do we really take it? We may think about our posture a couple times a day and sit up straight, move our shoulders back, but then what? We revert to our typical slumped over posture in a matter of a minute or two.
Maybe, we don’t take posture to seriously because we don’t fully understand WHY posture is important. We may have been told that it makes us look better, more confident, feel better, prevent back pain but we were never told how this happens .
Well, what if I told you research has shown us how and why bad posture negatively affects us and it may be more important than you ever imagined. Bad posture has been shown to cause headaches, early spinal degeneration, decrease lung capacity, increase risk of cardiovascular disease, multiple musculoskeletal pain syndromes, increase fatigue, decrease immunity, effect mood, depression, and even memory.
To explain, let’s start from the top with your head sitting on top of your shoulders. If you are like the rest of us, we spend a lot of our days in a flexed position looking at a computer monitor, cell phone, TV, or driving. This position rolls our shoulders forward but this also moves the weight of our head off the shoulders and onto the spinal discs. This in turn results in what is call ‘forward head posture’. Let say your head weighs 12 pounds, for every inch your ear falls off your shoulder and moves forward you are doubling the weight of your head. Look at your posture from the side in front of a mirror. Does your head sit on top of your shoulders or fall forward? Your ear should line up with your shoulder from the side. If your head is 3 inches in front of your shoulders, the muscles in the back of your neck now must strain to hold 42 pounds of weight, which also compresses the spinal discs, instead of 12 pounds. This can lead to disc herniations and degeneration overtime all due to poor posture.
As you can imagine, this puts an enormous amount of strain on the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Research in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology has shown that blood flow through a muscle decreases as the muscle contraction increases. Blood is virtually cut off at 50-60% of continuous maximal contraction. Lack of blood flow results in buildup of lactic acid and other metabolites that cause muscle pain and soreness (1). This leads to neck and upper back muscles feeling tight, sore, and fatigued and combined with forward head posture explains why some people only get temporary relief with massage. This is because the underlining issue of why the muscles are tight to begin with needs to be addressed.