Bad Posture Causes Arthritis?!?!

We’ve all been there.  We’re sitting down on the couch or at a desk, working on a computer or phone, when we happen to glance to our side and catch a glimpse of our reflection in the mirror and we’re left with the thought, “Wow, is my posture really that bad?”

Now we’re told throughout our life to sit up straight and don’t slouch, but besides the visual appeal, does abnormal head posture influence your health at all?  Unfortunately it turns out that besides just looking bad, it can have profoundly negative impacts on your body.

More and more doctors are now focusing on the link between abnormal head posture and increased biomechanical stress and tension in the muscles, bones, and nerves of your neck.  The Mayo Clinic has even reported that forward head posture can increase the incidence of headaches, neck pain, pinched nerves, disc herniations, and, most importantly, spinal arthritis.

This type of spinal arthritis, known as osteoarthritis, is at its core a result of time and tension.  These wear down our spine leading to degenerative disc disease, bone spurring, disc bulges and more.  The reason why forward head posture is so critical to the health of our cervical spine and neck is because it significantly increases the tension on the spine in that area.  With more tension and stress on those joints, it takes less time for pain to develop and those permanent arthritic changes to take place.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of computers, phones and other devices that are consistently pulling our head forward and down, reshaping our posture and damaging our spine over time.  What we need are more good activities that are pulling our head back to where it should be.  Luckily, there are some simple exercises and action steps that can be utilized to help improve any issues with poor posture, ideally before any of the permanent consequences can take place.

  1. Get an official, or even unofficial, posture assessment. Forward head posture can be difficult to self-diagnose, so a lot of times it can help to get someone else to do it for you.  In our office, we use a digital posture analysis that can grade the amount of postural changes to the nearest millimeter.  But in the absence of that, having a friend or family member take a picture of you from the side in a neutral standing posture should give you an idea of how you are positioned.
  2. Add some postural exercises into your routine. One of the ones we utilize for our patients is Wall Posture, where you stand with your heels, back and shoulder against a wall and then try and move the back of your head to touch the wall.  Hold that for one minute.  If you don’t have a wall nearby to do this with, interlocking your fingers, placing them over the back of your head and pushing your head backwards against resistance can be effective.
  3. Strengthen your mid back. A lot of the postural stabilizing muscles for our neck can actually be found in between our shoulder blades. Traditional exercises can often ignore the muscles in this area, which are called rhomboids.  We recommend an exercise called Bat Wings.  Using a resistance band, anchor it around a post or doorknob and hold the other sides of the band in both hands.  Pull both elbows back and try and have your shoulder blades touch.  Hold this position for eight seconds and then repeat it eight times.
  4. Check your spinal alignment. A lot of forward head posture cases are tied in with reductions in the normal alignment, known as the lordosis, in your neck.  Exercise will work the muscles responsible for postural changes, but your ligaments need to be evaluated as well.  Unfortunately the only way to truly do this is with an x-ray, but the information that can be derived from it is invaluable in determining the most effective form of treatment.

Anytime that you are dealing with an issue related to your spine, the sooner you can act on it the better.  Your spine absorbs all of the stress you deal with on a daily basis, and with the ever increasing dependence on technology, our modern life has become unnaturally stressful.  Even something as simple as improving your posture can have significant benefits, not only on the way you feel now, but on how your body will age over time.  Just doing a little bit of work each day can save you a lot of potential pain, stiffness and even arthritis in the long run.

Dr. Travis McKay

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