In Part 1 I discussed the difference between ideal and poor posture and how poor posture can create “postural imbalance syndromes”, which can increase a person’s risk for injury.
In Part 2 I will shed some light on how poor posture can also affect organ function. Posture affects and moderates EVERY physiological function in the body, from joint alignment, breathing to hormonal production
Poor Posture and Digestive Function
As seen in figure 1, the segments of the spine are like to the keys of a piano. Your body has numerous reflex pathways as represented in the image with the yellow highlighted numbers which indicate the different spinal segments. (I.e. green represents the reflex pathways for the heart and lung. Organs talk to muscles and vice versa.
The highlighted yellow numbers in the image represent the spinal segments that control the digestive organs, the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver and colon. When a person experiences pain in that region of the spine, it may send pain signals to your digestive organs and your inner abdominal muscles. These inner abdominal muscles help to stabilize the spinal column and when they are over stimulated like when a person experiences pain, they reflexively get inhibited and shut down.
Your stomach and intestines rely on movements known as peristaltic movements to push food through your intestines. Poor posture can compress the abdominal organs involved in digestion which then affects peristaltic function, meaning your gastrointestinal system may not function as effectively. This can lead to gas, constipation, acid reflux, malabsorption and even challenges to the urinary tract and bladder.
Poor Posture and Lung Function
Figure 2 represents the thousands of people who are unknowingly creating decreased in lung capacity as well as major muscle imbalance syndromes.
Figure 3 represents what is called “upper cross syndrome”, a term coined by the famous physiotherapist Vladimir Janda. Otherwise known as Thoracic Kyphosis and can cause a dramatic decrease in lung capacity and function. When someone has thoracic kyphosis and depressed ribs the thoracic cavity is decreased in size and the rib cage cannot expand to its full size.
The more thoracic flexion or kyphosis someone has the less lung capacity they will have. Rene Cailliet M.D., the famous medical author and former director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at USC, says “lung capacity can be decreased by as much as 30% in these individuals”.
The lungs are positioned inside the rib cage and normal or optimal thoracic spine, rib, and scapula position are needed for normal diaphragmatic breathing and full lung capacity.
When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward as shown in figure 4. This movement sets off a cascade of events. The lungs expand, creating negative pressure that drives air in through the nose and mouth, filling the lungs with air. When you exhale, the diaphragm muscles relax and move upwards, which drives air out of the lungs through your breath.
Based on over 20 years of performing breathing assessments on my client’s, more than 95% had inverted breathing patterns. Meaning, they were predominantly chest breathers and were using their upper chest and neck muscles to breath with. These muscles are referred to as “accessory muscles” and they then get overworked and hypertonic (tight) when they are continually doing a job that they are not designed for.
Poor Posture and Heart Function
Poor posture can affect heart function, as the tightness in the chest, neck and oblique muscles decreases the capacity at which your chest can expand. In addition; the associated decrease in lung capacity due to poor posture also affects the functions of the heart.
A study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2006 followed over 4,000 men for 20 years. Researchers assessed and monitored each subject’s posture and evaluated health risks in relationship with poor posture.
“The men who experienced the greatest posture deviations and height loss over the 20-year period experienced a 64% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease”.
From the inside out, poor posture can affect more than just muscle, joints and bones.
In Part 3, I will share some simple corrective exercise strategies that you can use to enhance your posture.