Written by Dr. Dane Donohue, Co-founder of 8WW
Have you looked at yourself from the side lately? Maybe you saw a picture of yourself from the side or walked by a mirror and looked at your posture from the side. Because of the nature of our environments, people are developing hyperkyphotic posture (hunchback) at an alarming rate. The events of the last year have caused a lot of us to work from home and be at a computer MUCH more than usual. Combine this with cell phones, sitting watching TV, driving, and other activities that require us to look down or slouch forward and we have become a “flexion” dominant society. Meaning that we “flex” ourselves forward with all of these activities. Think about it, when we are sitting or worse yet, sitting and texting, what does our posture look like? Ankles flexed? Yes. Knees flexed? Yes. Hips flexed? Yes. Low Back flexed? Yes. Shoulder flexed and rounded? Yes. Neck flexed? Yes. Our spines and posture wind up in the position we put them in most. So, is it any wonder we are developing humps in the upper back? As I tell my patients, “humping in public is illegal”.
Forward head posture or hyperkyphotic posture is when the head moves forward out in front of the body’s center of gravity. The average head weighs about 7.5% of your total body weight and so for a 150 lbs. person, this is about 12.5 lbs., about the size of a bowling ball. What if I handed you a bowling ball and said, “I want you to carry this around today”, how would you hold it? Out in front of your body or close to your center of gravity? For every inch you would move that bowling ball out in front of your body, it would increase the force or torque on your back by about 10 additional pounds. Well, guess what? The bowling ball on the top of your neck you’re going to be carrying for the rest of your life. It should be like this: head lined up over the shoulder, shoulder lined up over hips, hips lined up over knees, and knees lined up over ankles. A perfectly straight line from the side. I have my patients stand with their backs straight against a wall. Then I have them place their feet, butt, shoulder blades, and the back of their head touching the wall. Then I have them slowly step forward without changing their posture. I ask them, “How does that feel?”. They tell me “It feels weird” or “It doesn’t feel normal”. I then have them turn around and look at the wall. That wall is straight as an arrow I tell them and so the reason that feels odd is that your spine and your “muscle memory” are used to your posture being forward, so being straight isn’t something your spine or nervous system is accustom to.
I believe that sitting too much is what is causing “hyperkyphotic posture” or forward head posture. Think about it, if God wanted us sitting for long periods of time, he would have designed us with 4 legs like a chair. However, he designed us with 2 legs because we are “bipeds” not “quadrupeds”. We are meant to be on 2 legs most of the time, not 4 legs.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society in 2004, Hyperkyphotic posture was more common in men than women (44% in men, 22% of women). In age- and sex-adjusted analyses, persons with hyperkyphotic posture had a 44% greater rate of mortality. In cause-specific mortality analyses, hyperkyphotic posture was specifically associated with an increased rate of death due to atherosclerosis. In another study, it was found that students with back pain sat for longer periods without interruption and had a more flexed (forward) relaxed sitting posture than the students without back pain. Also, from the American Journal of Pain Management; “Observations of the striking influence of postural mechanics on function and symptomatology have led to our hypothesis that posture affects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse, and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture.” Wow, posture is a lot more important than we think. It’s why it use to be something our parents and grandparents talked to us about. Remember, "sit up straight”? Or remember trying to walk a straight line with a book on top of your head? Hard to do if you don’t have good posture.
Here are 10 benefits of great posture:
1. Better Breathing: Good posture can improve your ability to take in oxygen by 30%.
2. Increased Self-Confidence: Who feels better? Someone who stands up tall or someone who slouches?
3. Back Pain Relief: Better alignment = less strain on the back.
4. Improved Mood: It’s actually been studied and proven that people with better posture have better moods.
5. Optimal Digestion: Good posture means less compression and stress on your digestive organs.
6. Look Slimmer: Tuck in that stomach!
7. Improved Circulation: Strain compresses blood flow and decreases circulation.
8. Improved Energy: A body with good posture moves more efficiently and therefore wastes less energy.
9. Look Younger: Nobody with a hump in their back looks young do they?
10. Improved Concentration: The improved oxygen flow that comes with good posture positively enhances your brain.
In our office, one of the first things that we do with our new patients is to take digital postural pictures from the front and side. We analyze the posture for distortion. It’s amazing and disturbing what we see most of the time. Distortion causes strain and strain over time causes a whole host of problems including; degenerative arthritis, spinal disc bulges and herniations, back pain, and neck pain. The age group that I believe will have the biggest problems in the future is our children. Wait until the “screen” generation grows up with those forward-flexed, slouchy postures. It’s not going to be pretty.
In the final analysis, good posture is simple. It’s a combination of good alignment, good core strength and flexibility, and awareness. You can’t change something you are not aware of or are not actively working on.