There is a saying, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”
What is considered “Good Posture?”
Posture is controlled by the nervous system. The brain takes in information from all the senses and sends signals out to the muscles to hold and move our bodies in a coordinated fashion. You may have certain postural habits – patterns that you hold your body in that you have developed over time. Standing upright is one of the hardest postures to maintain, because your body is working against gravity.
The position of your head often influences the posture of the rest of your body. Your head should be positioned so that your ears are over your shoulders. Many people hold their head forward of their body; this may be a habit created from looking at a computer monitor which is too far away or a result of trauma to the neck during birth or a car accident. Your shoulders should be held back, so your chest lifts upward. Your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should also be in alignment from a side view.
From the front, your ears, shoulders, and hips should all be even. An imaginary line drawn through the center of your body should bisect evenly; if your head or hips are shifted to one side, then your body posture is out of balance.
The position of your feet may also affect your posture. People with flat feet or other postural habits often have postural issues because the foundation for their body is imbalanced. Turning your feet out or in will also affect your body`s habits. Look at the wear of your shoes to see where most of your weight is distributed to give you an idea of your posture.
Why is good posture important?
When you have good posture, then your body is in proper alignment which enhances all the body`s functions: breathing, circulation, muscle activity, organ function, and balance. Posture also influences how you feel. When you stand and walk tall, then you will naturally feel uplifted. If you slouch and slump forward, you will feel depressed. When you have good posture you will look and feel better, due to the above reasons.
How can I help my children develop good posture?
Proper posture may begin while babies are developing. If there is not enough room for the baby to move around (intrauterine constraint), then the nervous system may be affected, which controls posture. This constraint can occur from misalignment of the mother`s pelvic bones or lower spine. Regular chiropractic spinal checkups during pregnancy can detect and eliminate and restrictions to the baby`s development.
Birth trauma can also influence the baby`s future posture. Even the most natural, uneventful birth can cause stress to the small bones in a baby`s spine, especially the neck. If you had a cesarean section, or forceps, vacuum, or a doctor`s hands were used to birth your baby, then the chances your baby`s spine was affected increase. Getting your children`s spines examined by a pediatric chiropractor as soon after birth as possible can prevent spinal problems occurring in the future which might affect posture.
Babies` spine grow 50% in the first year of life – a great amount of growth occurring in a relatively short time, which increases the odds that problems will occur. Babies are born with C-shaped spines and have to develop the curves of the neck and low back. Here are some dos and don`ts for that first year.
DO: Carry your infant in a sling, switching sides, at least until they have some head control (about 3 -4 months), use a fully reclining stroller, or lay your baby down on a flat surface.
DO NOT: Carry your infant in an upright carrier until they can hold up their head.
DO NOT: Use bouncy seats, exercise saucers, walkers, jumpers, swings or any other device that sits the baby up at an angle. Preferably do not use theses devices at all, but especially not before they can sit up by themselves (6 months or more) and not for longer than 15 minutes. Walkers should not be used at all due to the risk of injury.
DO NOT: Let your baby sleep in his car seat. The upright posture puts pressure on their spine and their breathing is often altered. Babies should sleep lying down. Change their position to encourage proper molding of their heads, propping them on alternate sides, in addition to their backs.
DO: Give your baby adequate “tummy time”, especially after 3 months of age. Your baby develops the curve in the neck by using muscles to hold up his or her head. As your baby gets up onto hands and knees and then crawls, the lower lumbar spine will develop.
DO: Get your baby`s spine checked out regularly during the first year to find and fix any spinal problems that might develop. Visits should occur when milestones are reached: Holding up the head, rolling over, sitting with support , sitting without support, getting on hands and knees, crawling, pulling to standing, walking, & running. A visit to the chiropractor is also called for if a child skips or doesn`t reach a milestone.
DO: Take your child to a chiropractor if there has been any trauma to their spines or skull, such as a fall from a bed or an auto accident.
Once your children are active, visits to the chiropractor will depend on the amount of stressors in their life. If they have a fall, sports injury or auto accident, their spine should be checked. Emotional stress as well as toxic exposure can also cause misalignments to occur, which will affect posture.
Two of the biggest problems for older to children to overcome in regards to posture are backpacks and hand held computer games. Children`s backpacks should weigh no more than 10-15 % of their body weight. Unfortunately, most kids are hefting around 4-5 times more weight than their spines can safely handle. This will stress the spine and cause hunched shoulders, forward head, and uneven shoulders. Get your child to use a rolling backpack, leave some books in his locker, or at the very least, buy an ergonomic backpack which helps distribute the weight. Your chiropractor can order an ergonomic backpack in a size that fits your child for about the price of an adjustment!
Many school age kids can be found hunched over handheld games or huddled over their control panel for Playstation II for hours at a time, at recess, after school, and on weekends. All these devices place repetitive stress on their developing spines and will enhance bad posture. Limit their use, or better yet, remove them from the house (they can always use their friend`s game….) and get them active in a sport or just have them run around.
Doesn`t my children`s medical pediatrician check their posture?
Just as your child`s pediatrician does not perform dental checkups, they are not experts in detecting spinal and postural problems. They will often perform Adam`s Test, which is detection of a hump in the upper back when your child bends over. By the time this hump is seen, the scoliosis, or spinal curvature has progressed to an advanced state and the child is often near or in puberty, which is when the spinal segments begin to fuse and their shape becomes permanent.
Pediatric chiropractors are experts in detecting and correcting postural and spinal problems in the very early stages, before habits and deformities become permanent. It is advised to have your child`s spine checked out as soon after birth as possible and then as they advance through the milestones in their first year. After that, spinal checkups may be every month or less, depending on their activity level and trauma. A year should not go by without having your child`s spine checked by a chiropractor for proper development!
What things can I do to help my posture?
Sitting: At your desk, sit at a comfortable height that doesn`t make your slouch or reach. Adjust the chair height to keep knees level with hips. If using a computer, make sure that the monitor is eye level and the keyboard is placed so that the forearms and hands are in a straight line (see Ergonomics diagram). Get up every hour , stretch and walk around . Invest in a good chair or, at the very least, use a lumbar support.
Standing: Try not to stand still in one place for long periods of time. If that is impossible, elevate one foot by placing it on a box, step, or inside of the cabinet. Switch feet often. Hold your head so you are looking straight ahead. Relax your shoulders and hold your chest up high. Pull in your navel towards your spine to support your lower back and tuck under your buttocks.
Sleeping: You spend 1/3 of your life in bed! Use a firm mattress, and preferably one that is endorsed by a chiropractic organization. Use one pillow to support under your neck. Orthopedic cervical pillows are highly recommended as they help to support the neck and encourage a healthy neck curve. Sleep on your back or side – never on your stomach, as this places stress on the neck. If you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees. If your sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to support the pelvis.
Driving: Adjust your seat far enough forward so that your knees are raised above the hip. You might also benefit from a lumbar support . To get into the car, sit sideways onto the seat and then swing your legs in – reverse the process when getting out.
Lifting & Carrying: Get close to the object you`re lifting. Keep your back straight, never bend from the waist (ie, lifting a child out of a crib or high chair!) Hold in your stomach to support the lower back and use your strong leg muscle to lift the object. Hold the object close to your body. When carrying objects, hold them as close to the midline as possible. It is better to carry 2 bags of equal weight distribution in both hands, then to carry a heavy object (ie grocery bag) in one hand. Switch the hip you carry your child on, or better yet, carry them in front of you.
Exercises: Yoga, in particular, focuses on flexibility and strength of the spine. Try this posture improving exercise: Stand with your feet hip width apart, about a foot from the wall. Lean back against the wall with your arms raised in a “hold up” position with the elbows as high as the shoulders and bent at a 90 degree angle and the hands facing forward. Pull your navel towards your spine, flattening the small of your back against the wall. Keep your arms, shoulders, and wrists pressed against the wall. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat throughout the day.
Nutrition: A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated and trans fatty acids, refined products, and animal protein will create a favorable environment for your bones. Bones especially need calcium and leafy greens, tofu, and sesame seeds are more absorbable than dairy. Leafy greens (chard, kale, bok choy, collards, romaine) are also sources of magnesium, which bones need, too. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day helps to make sure that spinal discs stay hydrated, so they can function as shock absorbers. Essential fatty acids, like flax oil, DHA, and evening primrose are also beneficial.
Chiropractic: Regular chiropractic care ensures that your spine is well aligned in order to obtain the very best posture. Subluxations or misalignments of the spine can cause the spine to move improperly, creating stress and possibly arthritic buildup over time. Once enough structural changes have occurred, certain postures may become permanent (for example, the stooped over elderly person, or the child who has “grown into” scoliosis.
How will pregnancy affect my posture?
As your baby grows inside of you, gravity will increasingly shift your body weight forward. The lower lumbar spine will increase it`s curve, or lordosis, which can cause lower back pain. When you are pregnant, it is advised to wear only flats, no heels, as this will also increase the lumbar lordosis, placing more weight on the lower lumbar spine, and throw gravity even further forward which will strain your hip and knee ligaments. Most people, including pregnant women have tight psoas muscles, which will pull the low back even further into lordosis. Dr. Anderson highly recommends doing a low lunge stretch to release the psoas muscle and relieve pressure from the lower back. Balance is also altered as pregnancy progresses and your center of gravity changes. Prenatal yoga can help to keep your coordination while moving and maintain proper posture. Go to the “Pregnancy and Exercise” page for specific exercises to perform during pregnancy and the “Home” page to order Dr. Christine Anderson`s Dynamic Prenatal Yoga DVD.
Of course, you will want to take extra precautions to protect your back while bending and lifting as all ligaments are loosened during pregnancy. Ligaments are what normally holds bones together, giving us stability. Relaxin and other hormones are released in pregnancy to facilitate opening of your pelvic outlet; unfortunately, they also loosen all the other joints, making you more prone to injury. Bending from your knees and not from your waist, will prevent strains of your low back. A pregnancy low back support can help reduce the strain of overworked muscles, if you are experiencing lower back pain. Chiropractic adjustments will ensure that there is no added stress on your spine and is helpful in relieving back pain due to pregnancy as it is drug free.
The loosening of your ligaments also makes you more prone to spinal and pelvic misalignments , or subluxations during pregnancy. Unfortunately, any pelvic misalignment will cause the outlet where the baby exits to be reduced by about a third. Regular chiropractic care during pregnancy can ensure that this outlet is at its maximum to facilitate the birthing process.
I know I have poor posture, now what!?
Go to a chiropractor for a complete spinal exam and have him or her give you a detailed explanation of your postural habits. What is usually required to improve your posture is that you break down negative habits that have been programmed into your nerves, muscles, and other body tissues and then reestablish positive postural habits. Chiropractic adjustments help to do this body re-education because the nervous controls all the functions of the body, including posture. Adjustments to the spine and other joints also ensure that there is alignment of the bones, making sure that the structure is sound and the body can move effectively.
Your chiropractor may also recommend cervical (neck) pillows, traction devices for the neck or low back, exercises and stretches, and/or orthotics (shoe inserts) to help restore spinal curves, balance muscles, or support your foundation. Orthotics can be extremely helpful when attempting to stabilize posture. Dr. Anderson casts orthotics in a weight bearing position, which are custom-made for your unique postural condition. She also carries an extensive assortment of orthopedic pillows, so you can be tested for a perfect fit, or have a pillow custom-made to your dimensions for optimum support. Cervical traction devices come in low or high tech forms, and can be used lying down or sitting up. Dr. Anderson has many options available to suit your postural needs.