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The Connection Between Posture and Health

Updated: Feb 27

The Connection Between Posture and Health

The connection that most people make with posture and their health usually comes down to back or neck pain.

But study after study shows that posture, itself, may not have as much of an impact on your neck pain or back pain as we have previously thought. It is true that, sometimes, our pain can be triggered by the way we hold our body, but research is showing that if we are making sure we are engaging in movement throughout our day, our posture may not make THAT much of an impact.

Our posture is not a passive action. It is our ability to hold our body dynamically in three-dimensional space. How we do that can have an effect on not only our energy levels (and the amount we expend throughout the day), but also our overall psychological and physical health.

The following are three ways that your posture can effect your body and mind that has almost nothing to do with your neck pain or back pain.

Breathing made Easier

The most common “bad posture” we see talked about is the “slouched” posture. This is where your shoulders and head come forward, and your mid-back becomes more curved. If you regularly sit this way, one thing you should know is that you aren’t breathing as effectively and efficiently as you can.

The diaphragm (die-uh-fram), which is the primary muscle for breathing, expands into the abdomen, inflating the lungs. When we are slouched forward, this decreases the amount of space that the diaphragm can expand, meaning that we aren’t going to be getting in a full breath. Additionally, the ribs are unable to expand fully, which decreases the space available for the lungs to inflate.

This decreased oxygen intake can have an effect on your healing capabilities if you are recovering from an injury, but it can also have negative effects for individuals who already have compromised lung function like individuals with COPD and asthma.

Stress and Relaxation

Due to the changes in your ability to expand your ribs and diaphragm due to a slouched posture, you may start to use what are called the “secondary breathing muscles”. These are muscles that attach from your neck into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ribs, lifting them upward to increase the space for lung inflation. If you have ever seen someone after a really tough cardiovascular exercise, you can perceive this movement.

When your body really needs that extra space to inflate your lungs, the use of these muscles isn’t going to have a big effect of you. However, if you are regularly using these muscles, then you are potentially going to experience a negative effect.

The biggest one that I tell my patients about is the effect that this type of breathing has on your stress response. When we breath deeply from the diaphragm, into the belly, we activate our relaxation mode, aka the parasympathetic/rest-digest response. Diaphragmatic breathing helps us to relax our body and mind.

The opposite of this type of breathing is chest breathing, where we raise the chest up toward our chin. This type of breathing is seen in people who experience anxiety attacks, for example. Chest breathing, and using those secondary breathing muscles, activate what is called the sympathetic/fight-flight response. If you are someone who regularly breathes using these secondary muscles, you are chronically sending messages to your brain that you are in a stress-related response. The outcome is you being more susceptible to the stressors in your life. If you deal with chronic anxiety, then your posture-related breathing could be a contributing factor.

Psychological Health and Mood

If you or someone you know has dealt with depression, then you know the posture that tends to come with it. It is well documented in the research that a slouched posture can be one thing psychological health providers can look out for when assessing someone for depression.

In addition to the effects that posture can have on your feelings of stress, it can also have an effect on your overall mood. A 2017 research article in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry showed some very surprising outcomes in individuals with mild to moderate depression.

At baseline slumped posture, all participants answered the questionnaire consistent with their diagnosis. After correcting their posture, the participants had increased positive affect, decreased fatigue, and decreased negative self-focus.

The reasons for these changes could be released endorphins (“happy” chemicals) due to a more upright posture, feeling more confident when in a particular position, or simply the act of body-mindfulness and mindful presence.

Whatever the reason, the act of holding yourself in a more upright and balanced posture can be a tool in the ongoing management of depression symptoms.

What can make a more balanced posture difficult to obtain or maintain?

Now that you have read this blog, I know you want to start getting your posture back in balance! There are multiple reasons why posture can be difficult (or even painful) to correct:

Tight chest muscles and decreased activation of the posture muscles in the back

Mobility challenges and stiffness in the mid-back or ribs

Poor core stability and endurance

The great news is that no matter the reason you are having posture challenges, at Alameda Chiropractic & Ergonomics, we can help you fix them! If you’re looking to get back in balance, then contact us today to see what we can do to get you feeling better than you have in years!

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