According to the American Journal of Pain Management, posture has an impact on every physiological function. This includes the ability to breathe properly, hormonal functions, spinal health, blood pressure, lung capacity and more. And with 85% of the US population admitting to experiencing back pain at some point in their lives, it’s perhaps time for us to dive into our daily postural habits head on (no pun intended).
Forward Head Syndrome, or as most of us refer to it–text neck– is a common form of postural misalignment. It’s characterized by the shoulders rounding forward, the chest caving inward and the skull lunging forward of the rest of the spine.
Forward neck posture extends the upper cervical spine (think lifting the chin) and flexes the lower cervical and thoracic spine (think rounding the shoulders forward), which is a complicated way of saying it pulls and strains critical muscles attached to the spine, which can cause inflammation and tightness. Experts claim that for every inch of forward head posture, the pressure on the spine increases by an additional ten pounds.
While this is fortunately a highly correctable condition, it can be easy to dismiss as a new way of living. Our daily activities of sitting, driving and working at desks, predisposes us to this sort of condition, which means that we must make a special effort to correct the balance.
For instance, a regular yoga routine can help counteract forward head syndrome, by strengthening all areas of the body and putting emphasis on joint alignment and healthy stress. Additionally, there are other tools to choose from, such as form-fitting back braces to speed up the process of improving your posture.
What is Correct Posture?
Looking at posture with an anatomical lens, you must first understand how the spine itself is constructed. 33 bones (vertebrae) individually stacked on top of one another interlock to form what is known as the spinal column. It protects the spinal cord and essentially gives you the primary foundation for your body to be able to stand up straight, twist, bend, and so on.
Attached to those vertebrae are an array of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The spine is built in four sections, each with a different number of vertebrae, and each with a different structure and function. An s-shaped curvature is the natural layout of the adult spine where the neck (cervical spine – 7 vertebrae) and lower back (lumbar spine – 5 vertebrae) have a natural curve inward towards the front of the body, and the upper back (thoracic spine – 12 vertebrae) and sacral spine (back of the pelvis down through the tailbone – 5 bones in the sacrum and 4 bones in the tailbone, some of which are fused together) have a natural curve outwards, away from the front of the body. This natural shape plays a critical role in helping you maintain balance and absorb the shock of impact when you walk, run, sit—you name it.
With this in mind, correct posture can then be defined as the spine, bones, and joints all in proper alignment when sitting and standing – shoulders over hips, chin over chest, feet flat to the ground, and natural curve of lower back supported.
Assess Posture and Build Strength
This is a simple way to assess posture. Stand with your back on the wall, and gently notice the position of the spine. Notice if there’s a tendency for the shoulders to round away from the wall, the chest to sink in at the armpits, and the skull to hang heavily forward. Then, gently open the chest and armpits to bring your shoulders towards the wall. Keep torso and abdomen gently engaged and the low ribs knitting in to each other, and slide your head back without raising your chin. In people who have FHS, because of the tightness in the neck, the head will tilt back and the chin will rise as if the person is trying to look up.
Try to keep your chin down – as if you’re trying to make a double chin. When the alignment feels right, keep the spinal arrangement and move about off the wall. Do this in repetitions as it starts to feel more natural.
Realign with Yoga
Yoga is a particularly useful form of exercise when it comes to reworking postural habits, because of its emphasis on full body movements and heightened mental awareness. All yoga poses are designed to strengthen and align the spine to its natural curvature, and there are several series of postures that are especially useful for this work:
Backbends – Belly backbends like locust pose, cobra and sphynx pose strengthen the back and neck muscles, and helps open the chest, move the skull back in line with the shoulders, and move the upper back vertebrae towards the front of the body (in the opposite direction of FHS).
Forward bends – Forward bends emphasize spinal flexion (when the torso and thighs move towards each other). FHS is characterized by improper flexion of the neck, so forward folds can help re-establish the spine’s relationship to flexion, and optimize the position of each section of the spine in forward bending movements.
Core/arm balances – Core work helps to firm and strengthe the foundational stablizers of the spine, which includes the lower abdomen and pelvic floor muscles. Arm balances restructure the arms’ relationship to the torso and can renegotiate incorrect shoulder placement due to FHS.
In our San Diego yoga studios, we’ve worked with thousands of students to improve posture and health in a number of areas. Our skilled teachers have worked with us to film hundreds of unique yoga and meditation videos, designed for students of all levels, interests and abilties. If you experience pain due to postural habits and live outside the San Diego area, join us for our online yoga classes, designed specifically for you to do at home. We’ve also filmed chair yoga classes, which can be practiced in the car, at the office and any other place we find ourselves sitting and slumping. Join us for a free 10-day trial today!
AUTHOR BIO: Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat aging stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and aging all the way to social, news, and inspirational pieces…the goal is help others “rebel against age”.