Your mom was right about poor posture.
Remember how your mom admonished you to sit or stand up straight? How she told you that poor posture isn’t good for your health? She was right. “Many people do not realize that maintaining a good posture can ward off many other health issues we see in everyday life,” says Michael Urban, senior lecturer and director of the occupational therapy program at the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven. “Many of my cases I have seen for pain and even increased fatigue can be attributed to our daily posturing.”
Your body functions at its optimal level when you maintain good posture. When you slouch, while sitting or standing, your joints aren’t in proper alignments, which increases strain on your body. “This repetitive strain over time wears down our joints’ protective surfaces, leading to the increased risk of arthritis and pain,” he says. “The wearing down of our joint surfaces over years of poor body mechanics can also lead to the bones changing shape.”
Here are 10 ways poor posture can affect your health:
1. Arthritis exacerbation
Poor posture can lead to malalignment of your spine or knees, which can increase stress on your knees. This can be particularly detrimental if you suffer from arthritis of the knees, says Dr. Chris Wolf, a sports medicine and regenerative orthopedic specialist at Bluetail Medical Group in Chesterfield, Missouri. “Over time, that malalignment can worsen the effects of arthritis by putting pressure on one part of the joint and causing pain. The pain can decrease your overall function and quality of life.”
2. Breathing efficacy
To breathe properly, your diaphragm needs to have enough space in the thoracic cavity to properly release and contract with each breath, says Anne Bierman, a physical therapist and manager with Athletico Physical Therapy in the Chicago area. She’s co-manager of the hip preservation team.
Your ability to breathe optimally is boosted when your body is lengthened and in proper alignment. Poor posture and spine misalignment can compromise your ability to breathe well, she says. “Breath quality is important because the body needs to have oxygen in order to restore and rejuvenate the cells,” Bierman says. Full, deep breaths help promote a healthy brain, heart and other vital organs, she says.
3. Circulation problems
Maintaining good circulation throughout your body is essential for overall health and well-being, says Isa Herrera, a physical therapist in New York City. She’s authored four books on the topic of pelvic health and a fifth on pregnancy fitness.
Poor posture can contribute to an array of circulation problems, including:
“Sitting for long periods contributes to poor circulation, putting pressure on the spine, the pelvis and other vital organs like the bladder and prostate,” Herrera says. “Poor posture can cause pain in the lower back and trigger points in the muscles of the spine, gluteal and even leg region. Additionally, it can misalign the pelvis and cause problems with digestion and elimination.” Therefore, if your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, it’s vital to get up and move throughout the day. Also, while sitting, avoid slouching or rounding your back, she suggests.
When you have poor posture, your body fights against its natural movement and spinal alignment, Herrera says. Your muscles have to work harder, causing fatigue. Also, poor posture puts your joints and ligaments under additional strain, which contributes to joint pain and muscle strain.
“At first, maintaining good posture can be exhausting, as it takes extra effort to keep your body in the correct position,” she says. “How do you ensure you have good posture? When sitting, start by making sure your chin is parallel to the floor, your chest is lifted and avoid sacral sitting where your pelvis is tucked under your body. Then, draw your shoulder blades back and down and keep your back straight.
“You may also want to invest in an ergonomic chair that promotes good posture and supports your back,” she says. “Once you retrain yourself, it takes less effort to maintain excellent posture, which will help prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of joint pain and muscle strain.”
5. Forward head posture
The cervical spine is responsible for allowing mobility and stability to the head and neck. Forward head posture occurs when a person leans their head forward, putting it out of alignment with their spine. Instead, the head is in a position in front of the body’s vertical midline, rather than lining up with the shoulders and midline. Any deviation to the center of gravity of the head results in an increase in cantilever loads, which can be particularly damaging to the upper cervical joints, says Dr. Medhat Mikhael, a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
Forward head posture can cause or exacerbate an array of disorders, including:
— Cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve).
A meta-analysis published in 2019 in the journal Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine found that “adults with neck pain show increased forward head posture when compared to asymptomatic adults.” There’s a correlation between forward head posture and neck pain measures in adults and older adults, researchers wrote. Researchers found no association between forward head posture and neck pain measures in adolescents.
Bad posture can cause or exacerbate tight neck muscles, which can compromise the natural curvature of the spine, Mikhael says. Tight neck muscles can send pain up to your head, in turn causing a headache. Poor posture can also contribute to inflammation in the neck, which is associated with headaches.
7. Jaw pain
Poor posture can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder, which is also known as TMJ, Bierman says. As poor posture misaligns the spine, it can also cause an improper bite pattern, which affects your temporomandibular joints — the two joints that connect your jawbone to the temporal bones of your skull.
“These joints function similarly to a hinge, allowing you to open and close your mouth,” Bierman says. “Poor posture in the neck and shoulders, or forward head posture, can cause these delicately balanced joints to become misaligned. When the jaw joints are misaligned, they’re more likely to pop, lock, cramp or even go into spasms, resulting in jaw pain and difficulty chewing.”
Bad posture can negatively affect your mood in multiple ways. “First, poor posture is often associated with low self-confidence and a lack of power. When you sit up straight, you are more likely to feel confident and in control,” she says. “Second, bad posture can lead to feelings of fatigue and irritability. Slouching puts unnecessary strain on your back and neck, quickly leading to muscle soreness and fatigue. On the other hand, sitting upright with good posture can help you feel more confident and relaxed.”
Research published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggests that good posture may “increase positive affect, reduce fatigue and reduce self-focus in people with mild-to-moderate depression.“
9. Sexual dysfunction
Having poor posture while sitting can adversely affect your sexual and bladder function, Herrera says. “Sacral sitting, or what I like to call rounded lower back sitting or slumped sitting, can be worse than other postures,” she says. “Sacral sitting can profoundly affect men’s and women’s sexual function because this posture shortens and tightens the pelvic floor muscles, which are our primary sexual muscles.”
Weak pelvic floor muscles can affect the sexual function of men and women in different ways, she says. For example, poor posture can contribute to men having a shortened or tightened pelvic floor, which can lead to weaker ejaculations and an inability to last long during sex. Weak orgasms are also common for females who have tight pelvic floor muscles.
“Poor sitting posture can add excessive pressure to the bladder, contributing to frequent bathroom trips and even incontinence,” she says. “It’s important to avoid sitting for too long, especially when so many are working from home.”
10. Shoulder and back pain
Slouching, hunching, sliding down when seated and other seemingly harmless positions ultimately contribute to pinching and shoulder impingement syndrome over time, which can create shoulder and back pain, Mikhael says. Such habits can create major pressure on the discs in your spine, which can cause discogenic back pain, a type of lower back pain.
To summarize, here are 10 ways poor posture can harm your health:
— Arthritis exacerbation.
— Breathing efficacy.
— Circulation problems.
— Forward head posture.
— Jaw pain.
— Sexual dysfunction.
— Shoulder and back pain.
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