How does posture change how your brain works?

Author: Emma Gilbert

Why is posture important?

Recently coined “text neck” we already know that forward head posture with classic hunched shoulders is bad for us, but what exactly is causing it and why should we worry?

Unfortunately for us, modern life is constantly encouraging us to have forward head posture. The daily use of computers, social media, tablets all mean we are more likely to have our heads buried in a screen for several hours a day. This alone is enough without sitting at work (or school), driving and watching t.v. in the evening. In teenagers this might be hours spent playing games online with friends instead of going out to play. This is why the problem of forward head carriage is no longer primarily a problem of older people, it’s a real problem for our children too.

The ‘C’ curve of your neck is designed to spread the load of your head evenly through each vertebra. When that curve changes, the relative weight going through your individual joints increases leading to faster degeneration. The average adult head weighs 5kg however one study showed that at a 15 degree forward angle this weight increased to 12kg and at 45 degrees it was 22kg. The excess stress this creates over a number of years should be concerning and with much younger people regularly adopting this posture the problems are unsurprisingly being seen much earlier. In this very office we now regularly see patients in their 20’s suffering the results of too much forward head carriage. It can already be too late to completely reverse the effect because on x-ray they show reduced or straightened cervical curves and the first signs of spinal degeneration which can never be undone. Furthermore, once you loose the natural curvature of your spine the rate at which it degenerates increases.

According to research, there is a significant increase in neck pain experienced by people with forward head posture, with more neck pain being experienced in those who sit for more than 5 hours per day. In addition to these findings, rounded shoulders and hunched posture (known as increased thoracic kyphosis) has long been linked to increased mortality, reduced physical performance, reduced respiratory function and low quality of life.

What does this mean for me?

You will already be aware that after a Chiropractic adjustment you will usually have increased range of neck motion and more upright posture. However, given your daily activities it is important that you take responsibility for limiting your forward head posture outside the office. Taking the time to set up your workplace properly is very important and daily stretching of the neck has been shown to help reduce the effects. In children, a great tip is asking them to adopt the “W” position when working with screens or playing on computers to protect them from classic hunched posture.

If you’ve tried this already but gave up because it felt so uncomfortable, keep going! For the first few days of sitting up right you experience some aches particularly below your shoulder blades. This is because your postural muscles are likely to be weak and not used to being worked! Just like using any other muscle through exercise, a few days of aching is perfectly normal and will soon disappear.

How will loosing my neck curve affect my quality of life?

X-ray of lower head, neck and top of shoulders. Sideways on.

Research has shown that loosing the normal curve in your neck is not a “normal” variation of the spine to be expected within a large group of people so it shouldn’t simply be accepted as an inevitable part of life. It’s so important to keep your neck curve intact because research suggests that it may be crucially important for the ability of the body to maintain optimal afferent input from spine to brain, and respond appropriately to its environment. Put simply, the loss of curve reduces the accurate communication of nerve information between the neck and the brain which will ultimately mean you can’t adapt to life as well as you once did!

How do we assess posture in clinic?

Woman standing against a wall and holding and looking at a tablet device.Two people holding a tablet device and looking at it.
We have several ways of assessing posture in clinic, our Chiropractors and Muscle Therapist are trained in postural analysis and we use an app which tracks how your posture changes over time. We also check your height (because yes, our patients do get taller)! and we use high quality digital x-ray when indicated, which allows us to accurately measure your curve.

The inspiration for this article was taken from the Australian Institute for Spinal Research Foundation and you can get more information on this topic and the studies we reference by reading their article here.