Rounded, stooped posture these days is becoming increasingly common and it is almost the norm to be staring down towards your phone. Anywhere we go we see large numbers of people with their chin on their chest, and shoulders turned inwards – but are all of us aware of the significance of this?
Mobile phones are driving this postural epidemic, not to mention the complete loss of human interaction within society. “Text neck” is a term that has been used for some years and refers to having pain in your neck or upper back as a result of looking down to text for long periods – but realistically we are relying more and more on our phones to help us perform normal activities: navigation, communication, socialisation – all to help us deal with our increasing phone ‘addiction’.
“Upper crossed posture” is a medical term often given to outline the pattern of muscle changes that occur in certain individuals. Upper crossed posture can develop when we continually assume a position with our heads forward, with a rounded upper back and inwardly rotated shoulders.
The key changes are:
- Tight and shortened pectoral (chest) muscles
- Tight and shortened upper neck muscles in the back of the neck
- Weakened upper back muscle
- Weakened neck flexor muscle (involving the deeper layers)
The combination of the above involves a ‘jutting’ of the chin, alongside a forward shift of the head and its centre of gravity. In turn, this increases the effective load-bearing of the head upon the neck – your head basically weighs an extra 5-6kg for every inch forward that it moves. So that’s like walking around with 4 bowling balls upon your neck, if your head sits 4 inches forward from your shoulders!
So what are the benefits of having good posture?
1. Improved mental health
Did you know that poor posture is actually a diagnostic feature of depression? Maintaining upright posture, with the shoulders back and chest slightly elevated has been shown to improve both mood and self-esteem in healthy individuals. A preliminary study has even shown that upright posture may reduce fatigue in those with mild to moderate depression.
2. Reduced diaphragm tension
Sitting upright has been shown to have a positive effect when looking at lung function; the FEV1 test measures the forced expiratory volume in 1 second- this is how much air you can breathe out in total. This study suggests that sitting upright reduces the pressure on the diaphragm – one of the key muscles involved in breathing itself.
3. Reduced disc pressure
Stuart Mcgill, a world-renowned professor and lecturer in spine function has shown that a change in posture can rapidly increase the loading pressures through your discs in your neck and lower back. As our body weight shifts forwards in front of us, our discs adopt a different position, and this additional pressure within the disc can lead to changes over time. For example, sitting whilst flexing our body forwards to tie our shoe-laces can exert up to 4 times the load into the lower lumbar discs within the lower back and if we load our backs repeatedly in this way, we are more susceptible to a herniated disc, than if we assumed an upright position of the trunk.
What is good posture and how should I sit? Follow these 7 simple pointers for good posture to help reduce strain upon the body:
- Sit with an upright torso, so your lower back does not round
- Position your head over your shoulders
- Sit with your shoulders above your hips
- Do not let your chin protrude too far in front!
- Have your thighs slightly sloping down toward the floor
- Have your feet placed flat on the floor or a footstool
- Avoid sitting for more than 20 minute periods where possible!