How posture affects your brain, mood, mobility and function at ANY age

Author: Joke De Winter

Over the last few decades, both young and old have noticeably and tragically resided themselves to a sedentary lifestyle that increases poor posture. Before we even reach “old age” we have already given into gravity with many of us developing a hunched back. As many of us we sit all day at computers, lean over our mobile phones and we lay with our chin on our chests as we work through an entire Netflix series in a weekend we are now seeing forward head posture emerge at a much younger age.

We are in an era where social media and mobile devices and new technology are constantly being adopted with no future of slowing down. Since technology is at an all-time peak your posture is not something you should continue to ignore. Since life expectancy is on the rise, this poor posture is having a negative effect on our spines for many more years. In fact, it’s not just your spine that is affected by poor posture, you brain is too.

Why is posture so important for my spine?

First and foremost,  the basic theory that pain or injury will be more common if you have postural abnormalities such as forward head tilt, rounded shoulders and hunch back and is well supported by research. Unsurprisingly, posture is one of the key reasons your spine gets restricted since rounded posture increases pressure on specific areas of your spine rather than forces to be evenly spread.

Poor posture limits your health in two main ways: firstly, hunched posture is linked to reduced brain function and increased depression. Secondly, poor posture acts against your body’s natural healing mechanisms and could result in your spine wearing out faster (developing osteo-arthritis). 

How does poor posture affect my brain, mood and oxygen?

Woman standing against a wall and holding and looking at a tablet device.Chiropractic care focuses on the knowledge that 90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain comes from movement of the spine. If poor posture reduces spinal motion then it has the potential to affect far more than just pain and mobility. Studies support this idea, showing that forward head posture can reduce lung capacity, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain and other organs. Less oxygen to the brain means less brain function, therefore less productivity. This can cause our moods to fluctuate, meaning our hormones aren’t regulated, causing the body system to not work at an optimal level – which is important to keep our body well.

Poor posture has also long been associated with increased mortality, diminished physical performance and a low quality of life [3]. Why is this?

It starts with a simple observation. This is classic “slumped posture” is a “flexed” posture (where everything is curled in on itself) and is in fact a protective or defensive stance that you would take to either fight or avoid something. This is a “fight or flight” posture which can have very real neurological and psychological impacts as it reinforces the fight or flight state in your brain and body functions. You can read more about that here.

In a study by Nair et al [4]  people with more upright seated postures reported “higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood and lower fear, compared to slumped participants.” Whereas slumped participants used “more negative emotion words, first-person singular pronouns, affective process words, sadness words, and fewer positive emotion words and total words during the speech.” The inference was clear – sit up straight at your desk. It’s not just about your posture, it’s also about your state of mind.

What is (probably) the worst part of bad posture?

Woman with ipad helps patient with posture at chiropractor in Nottingham.Hunched shoulders don’t look or feel very nice but in terms of your overall health and body function, it is the forward head carriage i.e. your chin jutting forward and the head being held in front of the shoulders which creates the most damage to your health.

In a neutral head position the average human head weighs 10-12 pounds (4.5-5.5 kilograms). However, as the head moves forward, this number increases drastically [4]:

  • At 15 degrees, the head weighs 27 pounds (12.3 kilograms)
  • At 30 degrees, it increases to 40 pounds (18.2 kilograms)
  • At 45 degrees, it weighs 49 pounds (22.3 kilograms)
  • At 60 degrees, it exerts a force of 60 pounds on the cervical spine. (27.3 kilograms)
  • At 90 degrees the force cannot even be measured!

When we look at these numbers increased wear and tear,  headaches, shoulder pain and stress around the spine is absolutely expected!

Since the messages which run through your spinal cord to your brain always have to pass through your neck, it makes sense that keeping your neck in a mobile, healthy state is extremely important.

How we can help

12 weeks of chiropractic care.Here at Radcliffe Chiropractic Clinic, we assess in your posture in several ways using the latest technology. We also have a series of simple motion tests to allow us to compare your mobility to expected levels (watch our video on how to do this yourself at home here) and we have digital x-rays to show us exactly what is happening with the structure of your spine as a result of your posture. We then use Chiropractic adjustments to restore motion to your spine and help you re-gain the posture you were designed to have.

Our experienced Muscle Therapist is also on hand to help relieve the pain and tension from chronically tight muscles and give you a personalised programme of posture exercises to do at home. Recommended exercises assist postural improvement and ensure our practice members combat the problem in-between their adjustments.

If you would like to know how to improve your posture and discover exactly how it is affecting your quality of life, get in touch on 0115 933 4544.

Tips for posture at home

  • Use ergonomically configured desktop arrangements where possible (where the eyes are level with the top of the screen and elbows resting on the desk). We can monitor this by self-assessing your posture with pictures you’ve taken of yourself at work or at home at your desk.
  • Raise your mobile phone to eye level rather than bending their head to look down. We can also help with this through self-assessment.
  • Retain good posture through movement and static positions. We can monitor your progress with regular posture assessments.
  • Get advice specific to yourself and incorporate a regular stretching and strengthening programme into your day to day life. We provide exercises specific to you and direct you in how they are performed with the level of repetitions and the amount of time required to gain the most benefit.

Everything is individual to you and your posture journey!

Whether it is age, degeneration, job or technology use that brings on the issue of forward head posture, there is one thing we can be sure of: this isn’t a problem that is going away any time soon. The best you can do is be informed, be vigilant and make the changes necessary to preserve and enhance optimal function of your central nervous system.

References

[1] Nejati P, Loftian S, Moezy A and Nejati M (2013), “The relationship of forward head posture and rounded shoulders with neck pain in Iranian office workers,” Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Vol. 28,26. 3 May 2014, http://mjiri.iums.ac.ir

[2] Quek J, Pua Y, Clark R, Bryant A (2012), “Effects of thoracic kyphosis and forward head posture on cervical range of motion in older adults,” Manual Therapy, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.math.2012.07.005

[3] Nair S, Sagar M, Sollers J, Consedine N, and Broadbent E (2015), “Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial.” Health Psychol. 2015 Jun;34(6):632-41. doi: 10.1037/hea0000146. Epub 2014 Sep 15.

[4] Hansraj, K, “Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head,” Neuro and Spine Surgery, Surgical Technology International XXV