Our spine supports and protects our nervous system. If there are alignment problems with the spine it can affect our arms, legs, and even organ because they are all controlled by our nervous system. There many causes to improper alignment or mechanical deficiencies in the spine eg. House, work, sleeping posture, motor vehicle accident, work accident, sport accident. Other not as common causes are infection, cancer, other health condition such as diabetes, arthritis can also affect our spine health. Today’s topic is about our posture. What is proper posture? Many patients will ask me that question. The real answer is that there is no real proper posture. Our spine is designed to move so if we stay in any posture too long it would still cause injury to the muscle tissue. There is a posture though that minimizes the force in our body. There is a specific natural curvature to the spine that should be maintained most of our life.
If we feel our own spine in the back we start from the neck. Our neck has 7 bones. If we feel our own neck with our head facing forward we should not be able to feel any bones unless we press down hard. So our normal neck shape caved inwards. It is approximately 40 degrees curvature. Many people I see with neck or shoulder problems have a straight neck with their head very forward…especially people on computers. By reducing the neck curvature we can put excessive strain to the neck muscle causing headaches if our joints lock up in the neck. We can stretch and strengthen our neck muscles so that it can hold our neck position. Please consult your physiotherapist or chiropractor for suitable exercises.
Going back to the shape of the spine… after the neck we will hit a big bone sticking out the back at C7/T1 area. Our thoracic spine has 12 bones. If we feel our spine the thoracic spine is curved outwards. Some people can have large curve and some have a small curve. As we age it is normal to notice an increase curvature but there are special conditions which can increase the rate to curvature. If the curve is very large we call this Dowager’s hump. Increased curvature (kyphosis) in the thoracic spine can be caused by old age, but sometimes can also be other health conditions. See your family physician or a chiropractor if you noticed an increased curvature at a young age. Sometimes the reason for the change in shape in the mid back is the forward nature of our work and studies. Our shoulders are rounded forward in many tasks that we do. Even exercising people like to work on the chest muscles. Many people forget about the back muscles. Prolonged time in a flexed position causes the bone to change shape and we see the increased curvature in the midback. If severe it can affect the function of the heart and lungs. So to prevent this from happening we can do some stretching of the front muscles. Some people may also notice a scoliosis in the thoracic region which will be another topic in the future.
Now we are down to the lower back. Once we reach a specific level in the back the bone starts to disappear. This area is called lumbar spine which is comprised of 5 bones normally but some people have 4 and some will have 6. They are designated as L1/2/3/4/5. If we feel ourselves we know that it is curved inwards similar to our neck which we term lordosis. The curvature is measured normally to be 50-60 degrees. If the lower back is too flat it can be attributed to the back getting fatigue easily. Many people with computer jobs have a flatter back because they are always leaning forward and usually have weaker back muscles. We can feel the bone when we lean forward… once we lean back the bone disappears. One way to make our muscles less tired is to put a cushion in the back to recreate the curvature. Back supports do not have to be too thick. Usually it is better to purchase a back support that is adjustable in thickness and in height level.
All information above was written so the general public can understand, for more specific questions regard posture feel free to contact me at First Markham Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or CALL (905)940-1777.
Dr. Clement Liu B.Sc. D.C. R.Ac.
Chiropractor, Registered Acupuncturist