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As a posture chiropractor in Toronto, we see many patients for chronic poor posture leading to pain and other symptoms. For the vast majority, these postural problems are largely related to increased sitting, computer time, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain and headaches are just a few of the most common symptoms from chronic bad posture.
Most of us have a good idea of what good posture looks like. Proper posture should allow for normal spinal postural curves with the least stress and tension in your muscles and other soft tissues.
Correct posture should maintain these natural spinal curves with minimal effort, so that all your bones and joints are properly aligned, with minimal overall strain, and no pain.
Proper posture from the front is ideally a straight upright spine, with a symmetric balance between the left side of your body and the right side of your body. The neck and head should be straight upright, with no head tilt to either side, the shoulders are level, the hips are level, and the knees and ankles are upright and balanced.
The side view of posture is the measure where we see the most common postural problems. The head should be positioned directly over the shoulders, which should be over the hips, which are over the ankle joint. If you dropped a string or a gravitational plumb line down from the middle of the ears, it should bisect all of these structures, and the muscles and ligaments should be in a relaxed state.
Good posture is essential for your health and well-being. Proper alignment of the spine reduces strain on supportive structures like ligaments, muscles, joints and discs. Good posture allows for a person to breathe more easily, move their body efficiently, and even sleep better.
Proper posture is the result of maintaining a healthy spine. Posture correction techniques for your spine are important because they reduce back and neck pain, improve muscle and joint function, maintain brain health, increase mood stability, improve spinal health among other benefits.
The most common changes in posture from the front are a head tilt to one side, one shoulder being lower, one hip elevated or depressed, and either bow leggedness or knock knees, and feet rolling in as in excessive pronation of the feet.
An exaggerated example of this may be seen in a scoliosis, where a severe sideways curvature of the spine can significantly alter the posture from the front or back.
The most common postural fault or problem from the side is the forward head posture or rounded shoulders posture. This is typically what we refer to as “poor posture”.
The head and chin jut forward over the spine and the rest of the body, placing significantly more stress onto the neck, upper back, shoulders, and mid back areas. This leads to chronic muscular tension and stiffness in these areas, neck pain, headaches, and often upper back pain.
If this continues long term, this increased stress can lead to neck arthritis, as well as increased compression on the nerves in the neck, resulting in neck pain, shoulder pain, and arm pain and numbness, tingling and weakness down the arms into the hands.
As the head goes forward, it also increases the upper back curve, termed a kyphosis posture. This is the “hunch back” or Dowagers hump pattern you may be familiar with seeing in seniors.
These postural patterns extend into the lower back and pelvis as well, with either a loss of the normal lower back curve, termed flat back syndrome, or an increase in the natural lumbar lordosis, often seen as hyper lordosis or hyper lordotic posture or sway back posture.
Deviation from the normal lower back curve will increase compression on the lumbar discs and joints, potentially accelerating osteoarthritis in the lower back, and in some cases leading to a lumbar disc bulge and a herniated disc over time.
Finally, the alignment of the pelvis can be altered by poor posture, either with an increased anterior pelvic tilt, often causing lower back pain and potentially sciatica, or a posterior or backwards pelvic tilt.
Aside from the cosmetic issues associated with poor posture, research shows that prolonged poor posture can lead to many health problems including:
As a Toronto posture specialist for over twenty years, we’ve seen that posture correction is possible for the vast majority of people, given appropriate and consistent interventions.
The combination of corrective postural chiropractic protocols combined with specific postural corrective exercises has been shown to be highly effective at changing even longstanding postural problems.
The first step to improving poor posture or hunched posture is to have a thorough assessment, examining range of motion and mobility in the spine and joints, then looking at compensatory soft tissue and muscular adaptation. This is important to determine what the underlying postural issues are, and where they originate.
In many cases, there are numerous postural compensations, which are readily visible, but only a few core issues. If you can properly identify the core postural issues and correct them, the compensations will also improve.
In cases of extreme postural problems, x-rays are often warranted, to have a more detailed understanding of the spinal curvatures, and the best way to correct them.
Once a proper assessment and diagnosis has been completed, a comprehensive posture treatment plan is required for the best results.
In our Toronto posture clinic, we use a variety of approaches to achieve postural correction, with both in-clinic postural treatment and specific postural stabilization stretches and corrective exercises for home.
Postural re-education can take time, and requires consistent reinforcement, so daily exercises on the part of the patient are essential for the best results.
Structural postural chiropractic adjustments:
Required to start to restore proper and full motion in the spinal joints, to increase mobility, and allow the exercises and stretches to have their full effect.
Mirror image chiropractic adjusting:
Putting the abnormal posture into the mirror image, corrected posture, to stimulate the joints and neurology, to greatly accelerate postural changes.
Postural corrective exercises and stretches:
Designed to strengths specific weak postural muscles, to stabilize the spine and joints, and to stretch tight, contracted muscles.
To help to restore abnormal spinal curves toward normal, to allow for long term improvements in posture.
For advanced cases, all of these interventions may be required to achieve the best outcomes. For mild cases, only a few may be needed for great results.
As with many aspects of health, posture correction is unfortunately more of a marathon than a sprint. Posture correction is something you need to be patient with if you want results.
Many patients will notice symptomatic changes relatively quickly, within a few weeks, but making lasting permanent postural change may take anywhere from one month up to six months, depending on the severity of your case and your consistency. Once you’ve achieved postural corrective improvements, some ongoing effort is required to maintain these changes.
The best postural correction exercises target the muscles in the upper back and mid back areas, primarily the scapular stabilization muscles. The goal is to pull the shoulder blades backwards and downwards, called scapular retraction, to strengthen the inter-scapular muscles.
Any type of backwards rowing motion exercise is helpful for this purpose. One that we recommend is the YTW Exercise for Scapular Retraction, which can be found on our Exercise webpage, mid back section.
In addition to strengthening any weak mid back and upper back muscles, it is also important to stretch any tight muscles in the front of the body that are pulling the back and shoulders forward. This approach will help to minimize the possibility of upper cross syndrome, resulting in upper back and shoulder injuries. A primary issue is tight chest muscles or tight pectoral muscles.
A great stretch for this is the Standing Pec Stretch and the Beginner Wall Angel Postural Exercise, both of which can be found on our Exercise webpage, under the mid back section.
In addition to strengthening the upper back and mid back, and stretching the chest muscles, it’s important to strengthen and activate some of the deep neck flexor muscles, which become weaker as the head goes forward.
One of the best posture correction exercises for forward head posture is the Neck Retraction/Chin Tuck exercise, which can be found on our website under Exercises – Neck.
Consistency and repetition is the key with all postural stretches and exercises to achieve the desired result.
Many people consult with chiropractors for chiropractic posture correction, particularly forward head posture. This makes sense, as with their detailed and extensive training in the spine, musculature, spinal adjusting, and postural exercises, chiropractors are a posture correction specialist.
The combination of spinal adjustments/spinal manipulation, combined with joint mobilization, and customized postural corrective exercises, can significantly improve, and in many cases, fix a patient’s posture.
There are many factors that contribute to the successful improvement of a person’s posture: severity of the postural problems, chronicity of the problem, symptoms, and the consistency of both care and the postural corrective exercises.
As with all health changes, time and repetition is required.
The best way to correct your posture is by practicing good postural habits. There are a few things you can do in order to help in this regard:
While the concept and idea behind posture correctors and a posture correction device makes sense, most chiropractors advise some caution with these devices.
The best posture corrector devices alert people when their posture worsens, and the person themselves use their own postural muscles to correct their posture. This alerting and self-correction is the ideal use of posture correctors in most cases.
Caution should be used with any back posture correction brace or posture correction belt that artificially pulls the neck or shoulders or upper back posture backwards. While this forward neck posture correction is desirable, as this is achieved artificially, if these devices are worn for extended periods of time, for hours per day, they can unfortunately weaken the natural postural muscles which are designed to maintain natural posture.
Over a long period of time, if these postural muscles weaken, the person may be left with worse overall posture, as they have become reliant on the posture corrector device.
Used sparingly, and primarily to alert people to when their posture is bad, posture correctors can be helpful to relearn some better postural habits.
If relied on to artificially pull the shoulders and upper back backwards, and worn excessively, they can weaken some of the natural postural stabilization muscles, ultimately making a person’s posture worse. Caution is advised with the prolonged use of posture correctors.
If you need any more information or need help with your posture, don’t hesitate to contact our Toronto posture clinic at Transform Chiropractic.
Dr. Byron Mackay