Posture is something that is growing in the public awareness and everybody nowadays wants to improve their posture. There are a lot of things out there in the posture marketplace ranging from different types of exercises to products like posture correction shirts, back support bras and braces.
The problem of incorrect posture
No matter how old you are, I’m sure you heard the old saying, “pull your shoulders back, sit up straight, don’t slump or don’t text with your neck bent”. Using your phone by bending your head forward leads to all kinds of new orthopedic problems that we’ve never seen before and it’s sometimes known as a “text neck”.
We all kind of know what bad posture looks like, but that does not keep us from slouching and since we live in a culture where body awareness isn’t prioritized, many of us may not even be aware that our posture could be less than ideal.
We’re all familiar with the ‘Smartphone neck’ where the hips tilt forward, the core is weak and unengaged, shoulders slouch and the neck is way too sharp an angle looking straight down at the Smartphone. Our spines are so flexible and resilient that using this stance every now and then isn’t a big deal. But as we all know, most people are on their phones hours every day, especially when they commute.
When we’re in this shape for long periods of time, we begin to lose that slight forward curve in our cervical spine called the lordotic curve. Our ligaments and muscles begin to stretch out in all the wrong places. Once ligaments and muscles are lax, bones aren’t held in their correct place as effectively, which leads to subluxation in addition to nerve compression and chronic pain in the head, neck and a ton of tension in the shoulders.
Before there was ‘Smartphone neck’, there was the ‘computer screen chin’ also referred to as chin forward. It’s exactly what it sounds like. The shoulders roll forward, the back of the head falls towards the back elongating the throat and jutting the chin forward. This shape creates a very extreme lordosis in the cervical spine as well as kyphosis in the thoracic spine. In addition to the same subluxation vulnerabilities and nerve compression present in Smartphone necks, chin forward also contributes to impeded drainage of the lymphatic fluid which can lead to depressed immunity among other things. Another effect of this posture is obstruction of the free flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the spine.
Shoulders forward and kyphosis rarely exist independently of one another. Anyone who does anything with their arms in front of them like driving or washing dishes or gesticulating rapidly ends up having this problem. People, who spend a decent amount of time with their shoulders forward, end up with a lot of tension in their upper back and shoulders. This tension is caused by upper back muscles that have been over stretched to the point that they are no longer able to fully function, and support the spine in an erect position. Because of this, the muscles are always tight, often to the point that blood flow to the area is reduced and causes an uncomfortable condition called ischemia.
Consequences of bad posture
- When we have poor posture and our head is bent forward and a lot of times the muscles can become really tight, constricting the nerves that can lead to tension and headaches.
- Poor posture also restricts our breathing and that’s because the ribs can’t move as well.
- Fatigue is another outcome of bad posture.
- When we’re not breathing fully, we’re not getting enough oxygen which leads to sore muscles.
- Also the muscles of our body are forced to work overtime to hold the body straight and that usually leads to muscle spasm, inflammation and back pain.
- Bad posture also makes us look a lot older than we actually are.
Should you use a posture corrector?
So, we have a lot of devices that are coming out on the market to correct these problems – posture shirts for instance, that are helping or trying to facilitate posture. The question is should you buy one of these shirts or even one of the traditional back braces?
Well, there’s a lot of grey area in here. Unless you’re a power lifter, there’s really no reason to place something such as a back brace on your low back to increase stability. That’s because if you go back to basic principles of neurology, your body, if it had something to lean against or to stabilize externally, it’s going to do that. So over time once you take that off, the supporting muscles will be so atrophied at that point that you’d probably be worse off.
Now does that mean that some of these products like the postural shirts or back braces are useless? No not at all. It just needs to be part of a broader program. When you look at them, they use the principles of kinesio tape. It is a type of taping used in various sports and in rehab settings, that can facilitate or inhibit certain types of postures or turn on or off muscles etc. When we look at these products, they try to mimic those designs and the question is that are they effective or not.
Let’s say you had a custom-made orthotic for your foot and your foot rests on to it. The purpose of that orthotic is not to be entirely passive but for you to learn what that orthotic is saying to you. That orthotic is trying to tell you that you should be a little more into this position in your foot and that’s what those braces are doing too. Therefore, if you use the postural shirts in that way they can be a useful tool in your arsenal for fixing any type of postural deficiencies that you might have. But again, these shirts need to be part of a bigger overall program and we need to address some of the lifestyle factors that go along with postural disorders. If you’re looking for a quick fix, these shirts aren’t going to fix all your problems. You need to address some of the strengthening, the releasing of the muscles, mobilizing your spine and all the different components that go into improving your posture.
No quick fix solution
There’s really no quick fix for posture and you have to work at it. If you’re at a job where you’re working for eight to ten hours sitting, you’re going to have to work at it even more. Maybe these shirts or back braces could be part of an overall program but you need to be working on for instance, your pelvic positioning. You need to be able to sit well in your pelvis so you’re not going to rock back like you’re in a lazy boy chair. It’s not just about pulling your shoulders back because you can have a flexed spine and still pull your shoulders back.