When patients first come to my office I hear one statement more than any other when they describe how their pain started, “I didn’t do anything!” It is part of our human nature to try to figure out exactly what happened to cause our problems. However, in most cases it is not a single, simple cause, such as a fall or car accident. All of our daily activities gradually build up, strain our spine, and eventually cause pain. In my experience, poor posture is usually the most common culprit that leads patients to my office. In this blog post, I will discuss how bad posture can lead to different types of pain, and give you simple tips to correct your posture and start feeling better.
Upper Cross Syndrome
Most people reading this have probably never heard of Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS), but I guarantee you have experienced it in the past or know someone who has. It is one of most common conditions associated with bad posture. UCS is a combination of the muscles in the back of your neck and upper back becoming weak and too long and the muscles in the front of your neck and chest becoming too short and tight. People who suffer from UCS generally carry their head too far forward, known as anterior head carriage, and have shoulders that round forward. If you have been to our office, this probably sounds familiar to you.
UCS is a problem for almost everyone who sits at a computer all day. But UCS doesn’t just affect those that sit all day, it is common in teenagers, due to excessive smartphone use, as well as in the elderly, due to chronic poor posture. Those that suffer from UCS generally complain of neck and upper back pain.
Treatment of UCS involves strengthening of the muscles in the back of the neck and back, as well as stretching the muscles in the front of the neck and chest. The easiest way to stretch the muscles on the front of the neck is to reach across your body with your right hand and gently pull down on you left collar bone. While gently pulling down on the collar bone, lean you neck back and to the right. Hold for thirty seconds and then repeat for the opposite side. If you have UCS, you should NOT stretch your neck by leaning your head forward and pulling down! This will only make the problem worse since the muscles in the back of the neck are already too long.
Regular chiropractic care is also a great way to relieve pain associated with UCS. When the muscles begin to get weak and tight, vertebra are pulled out of their normal alignment, which can lead to pain. By properly aligning your spine and giving you proper stretching and strengthening exercises, UCS can be easily corrected.
Although almost everyone has heard of sciatica, few people think about it when it comes to poor posture. However, sciatica is one of the most common complaints made by people who sit for the majority of their day. Something as simple as sitting improperly for extended periods can cause symptoms associated with sciatica.
Sciatica, simply, is inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back, then runs through the gluteal muscles and down the back of the leg. Symptoms of sciatica can vary greatly from case to case, but can include lower back pain, leg pain, hip pain, leg numbness or weakness in the leg.
As I mentioned earlier a common cause of sciatica is sitting improperly for extended periods of time. This includes sitting with your legs crossed, shifting your weight to one side, or sitting on a leg. All of these positions cause your pelvis to shift out of its normal alignment, which can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and lead to symptoms associated with sciatica. For this reason, when you are sitting, you should sit with your feet flat on the ground and with your weight eventually distributed to both gluteal muscles. This will help keep your pelvis in its proper position.
Since sciatica is commonly caused by a misalignment of the pelvis, it usually responds well to chiropractic care. By properly aligning the lower back and pelvis, chiropractors can relieve nerve pressure and sciatic symptoms. However, core strengthening and stretching of the hamstring and gluteal muscles is also extremely important in the treatment of sciatica. I often also recommend my patients use a foam roller to help relax muscles in the legs and lower back and help break up knots and adhesions in the tissue.
Another common problem caused by bad posture is the tension headache. Tension headaches are commonly described as a dull or aching head pain, that is either mild or moderate in severity. People will generally describe that they feel like a band is wrapped around and squeezing their head. Sometimes the pain will start in the upper portion of the neck and wrap around the top of the head to the forehead.
Many times, tension headaches are caused by a misalignment of the first two vertebrae in the neck. The nerves that start in these areas wrap around and go to the head can cause headaches. By adjusting these areas, chiropractors get great results when treating tension headaches.
Something as simple as a monitor set at the wrong height can cause tension headaches, especially if you are staring at a monitor for 8-10 hours a day. I recommend having your monitor set so that the center of your screen is at eye level. This keeps you from looking up or down when looking at your monitor.
I hope this blog post has given you some simple things that you can implement to help improve your posture and keep you pain free. By making ergonomic changes, stretching regularly and keeping up with consistent chiropractic care, you can decrease your risk of suffering from Upper Cross Syndrome, sciatica or tension headaches.