12 things you may not know will give you bad posture

The Causes of Bad Posture and How to Identify them

“Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.” Virginia Woolf

Posture is a reflex-controlled system within the nervous system. It is subconscious, so you don’t have to continuously be “thinking” about keeping it correct.

Obviously, it appears that it isn’t perfect since many people have poor posture. Why? Remember that your brain needs to be stimulated appropriately and needs the right fuel in order to work correctly. Before getting into what your brain needs in order to serve your posture well, let’s look at the things we do that don’t serve our posture well.

Things that don’t serve good posture

1. Muscle imbalance
This is the key reason why most people have poor posture. If all of your muscles have the same tone (i.e. same degree of resting contraction of a muscle which establishes the length of the muscle) then optimal posture should be maintained. When opposing muscles (e.g. tricep and bicep of the upper arm) have unequal tone then it will change the position of the joint it is working on (in this case the elbow).

Indeed, if you observe a crowd you may see a variety of elbow positions when at rest, some more bent than others. If you consider the body as a whole, such an imbalance involving many muscles will have a striking effect on your posture. Muscle rehabilitation and specific exercise will target and eradicate these problems.

2. Lack of exercise
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We need to move in order to train our muscles to stay toned and strong. Of course there are some impressively simple ways to utilize exercise to maximize better posture, but even a simple walk every day will do wonders. Swim, row, skip, jump – it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving then you are helping your posture!

3. Sustained immobile postures
Prolonged sitting is probably the single most detrimental activity anyone can do. We simply did not evolve to sit all day long. It surprises me that many patients remark that sitting shouldn’t be bad since it is not like labouring work or repetitive factory work for instance. Well that is not true. Sitting is actually active but it is activating your brain and your body’s physiology in very particular ways that lead not only to poor posture but also greater risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. So if your occupation involves sitting you may want to start standing!

4. Sitting ergonomics
After the previous piece I find it difficult to feasibly support sitting at all, however if one must then there are better ways to do it. To put it simply, if you slouch you are in more trouble than sitting up straight. Slouching puts immense load on you spine. It not only increases the potential for injury to joints, muscle and discs but also increases the potential to develop osteoarthritis, breathing difficulties, digestive and circulatory problems. The basis of appropriate sitting starts with your chair and if you use a computer also includes the position of your monitor and keyboard. More on that later!

5. Repetitive motions
Well we said it was good to move but you can have too much of a good thing. We have evolved to move constantly through the day though in a multitude of ways. We weren’t designed to do the same motions all day long. So twisting all day working on a factory line or being bent over shoveling dirt all day or laying tiles on all fours will do more harm than good. A simple rule is to keep movement varied and novel. Try doing different things when you get the chance… when was the last time you climbed a tree?!

6. Pain, injury, and muscle guarding
 When you have sustained an injury or are in pain your body will adopt a certain posture or cause certain muscles to spasm in order to protect the injured tissue from further strain. This is an adaptive response that is important in the short term. However, if such postures or muscle tightness remain after the injury has healed or pain subsides then it will be setting you up for further problems in the future. An important part of any rehabilitation process is getting the body back to normal function. It’s not just about getting you out of pain.

7. Poor nutrition
Your body needs fuel to operate properly. If your neuromuscular system begins to fatigue then it will not support you. Nutrition is an immense field of knowledge and we will tackle many of the important factors in later blogs. Suffice to say, try to have a balanced diet of fresh, organic produce. Every meal should have a good source of protein, fat and carbohydrate and be high in micronutrients. Eat more veges and fruits compared to grains and refined flour. Eat good sources of fats and oils such as olive, coconut, nuts, avocado and keep away from processed foods especially when it comes to meat.

8. Extra weight and obesity
When we carry extra fat tissue it is not typically distributed evenly over the body. Men tend to carry it over the stomach (pendulous abdominis) and women around the hips and backside. The extra weight will change you centre of gravity and thus your posture and will also increase the load on your joints, predisposing you to injury and arthritic change.

9. Hereditary factors and age
There may be a family history of scoliosis, hyperkyphosis or hyperlordosis. If so then it is very important to be aware of posture from an early age and establish routines to counter the genetic predisposition. As we age it becomes more challenging to maintain optimal posture. Again, establishing a sound foundation of posture in the early years makes it so much easier as the years progress.

10. Ankle pronation, high heels and carrying bags on one shoulder
If there are biomechanical problems in the legs then it may affect your whole posture. Ankle pronation is one of the most common problems which affect body posture. If your foot arches are collapsing due to the ankle joint not sitting in neutral position then it is time to see the podiatrist. Shoes also play an important role in posture.

They should support proper ankle and arch position so if they don’t then it’s time for a change. Putting asymmetric loads on your shoulders will distort your posture. A bag that is too heavy or carried on one shoulder will have a detrimental impact over the long term.

11. Grief, depression, stress and low self esteem
Recall in the first part of the series how much the mind and emotions play a role in posture. Becoming aware of these states is crucial to making a positive change. If the task is too difficult on your own then counseling is an incredibly beneficial step in the right direction.

12. Habit.
Remember that habit is at the heart of all of the things we have discussed. Unfortunately, if we lack awareness of our habits then it is not until symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and movement restriction tell us that something is wrong.

Much of the stress of poor posture is accumulative over time and we may therefore not attribute pain or stiffness immediately to our poor posture and poor movement patterns. If you are interested in not only preventing problems from arising but also enjoying the freedom that comes with great posture and movement then do not hesitate to call us.