Parents are always correcting their kids’ posture: telling them to sit straighter, to stop hunching over their computer screens, and to not cross their legs. Is this all for good reason though or are these comments ones that could be dismissed as nagging?
Unfortunately, parents always seem to have a way of being correct. Bad posture is not entirely genetic. Of course, it can be. How can it not? Everyone possesses different muscular and skeletal systems, and accordingly, these differences cause the ways a people sit, stand, or move to be non-identical.
However, people fall into a pattern that becomes most comfortable for their bodies, causing changes to bone and soft tissue that over time, solidify. For example, the ligaments of a gymnast who stretches every day have adapted and molded in a way completely different from those of a more stationery musician. This is not to say though that once solidified in a routine, our ligaments and therefore, our posture, can not change.
Inherited features aside, you still have plenty of control over your posture. You don’t want to force your body into uncomfortable positions to change a feature such as bowed legs. However, you do want to listen to your body and adjust your posture if you’re experiencing pain. This can be accomplished either through something as simple as changing your chair or as lengthy as going to get an X-ray. Because if you ignore warning signs, it can cause strain on the musculoskeletal system and lead to more harmful consequences.
Habitual bad posture can lead to changes in spinal curvature. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines good posture as straight alignment of the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle, as seem from the side. It is not uncommon, however, to develop changes in spinal curvature.
You may be familiar with kyphosis, or more commonly known as hunchback. The head is pushed forward in front of the natural gravitational center causing neck and back pain. We most commonly hear of mild forms of this revealing itself in children or young adults who stare at a computer screen for long periods of time. Their heads lean towards the screen and their shoulders tense up.
Another common abnormal posture is lordosis, or more commonly known as swayback. This results in an inward curvature of the spine—the lower back seems to extend itself outwards to an excessive degree.
Neither of these abnormal curvatures takes into account the sideways curvature of the spine. This is known as scoliosis. Contrary to common belief, scoliosis is not a result of bad posture. The exact causes of scoliosis are unknown, but scoliosis and posture have not been directly linked or supported with scientific research. Even though you might have a free pass on scoliosis, you are still susceptible to all kinds of abnormal spine curvatures from bad posture.
The crossing of legs has been suggested to lead to bad posture because of its downstream effects on other parts of the body such as the back and hips. Additionally, if your veins are located closer to the surface, the pressure from crossing your legs can cause your veins to appear more prominently. And although crossing of the legs and varicose veins are not directly correlated, studies show that varicose veins are more common in women than in men as women are more likely to sit with their legs crossed.
Maybe you aren’t one to care about minor physical deformities. It’s not like anyone is staring at the shape of your spine or your veins…But what if the negligence of your bad posture is causing you pain? Neck, shoulder, and back pains naturally follow unnatural muscle tension. Extremities on both ends—either slouching or pulling your shoulders too far back—puts pressure on your muscles and causes stiffness in your back. If not adjusted, your shoulder can stay permanently rounded or you can suffer from joint degeneration in your spinal column. With bodily pains, it’s difficult to focus all of your energy on your work.
Problems with the muscular and skeletal system are not too surprising, but what else can bad posture lead to? Your stomach and intestines rely on peristaltic movements to move food through the intestines. This means they need the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the intestines’ muscles to create wavelike movements and push contents of the canal forward. Poor posture can affect this process, hindering proper digestion. Sitting down after eating causes the abdominal contents to compress, slowing down digestion and resulting in gastrointestinal pains such as cramps and constipation.
Unfortunately your stomach is not the only organ suffers from bad posture. According to Dr. Rene Cailliet, former director of University of Southern California’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, bad posture, specifically hunching forward too much, can affect lung capacity as much as 30 percent.
As a result, the heart and brain do not receive as much oxygenated blood as needed. This can lead to a variety of cardiovascular diseases. Researchers cross-referenced general sitting time with health outcomes and found that people who sat the most more than doubled their risk of developing diabetes and had a 147 percent increase of cardiovascular disease, regardless of exercise time.
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
With simply sitting for long periods of time providing all kinds of health problems and even proving to take years off your life, it is quite alarming to think of the negative consequences of maintaining a bad posture for long periods of time. But remember that these consequences can be mitigated or even prevented altogether by your conscious efforts. You can’t quit your 9 to 5 office job but you can take walking breaks, or cut down on Netflix time, or change your worn down thrift store chair with one of Beverly Hills Chairs. A new, reliable, comfortable ergonomic chair can make all the difference.