If you read my blogs then you are no stranger to postural imbalance and the problems it can lead to. Desk neck, phone wrist and driving shoulder are all common complaints these days. I think we are probably all agreed that when our posture goes wrong it can lead to musculo-skeletal problems, but could our modern day poor posture be causing us bigger problems?
Let us take for example one of the most common postures we see today – Upper Cross Syndrome & Kyphosis. This is generally identified with a forward head, rounded shoulders and a flexed Thoracic spine. As you can see from the photo on the right this posture crowds the chest and abdomen. With the lungs compressed down into the abdomen, the diaphragm struggles to move and so the upper chest muscles take over creating a shallow upper body breathing pattern. Along with the muscular problems…. stiff neck, sore shoulders and headaches, we are also starving ourselves of oxygen.
With less oxygen available for gas exchange our CO2 levels rise. This lack of oxygen can lead to Hypercapnia and metabolic acidosis changing the ph level of the body and impacting our Homeostasis and well being. This lack of well being, pains and aches lead to anxiety, which in turn exacerbates our shallow breathing and so a cycle of dysfunction is born and can be difficult to break. Our breath also impacts our cardiovascular system. Our blood pressure, stroke volume, and heart rate all intertwined with the function of our lungs.
Next up is the abdomen. Consider the passage of food through our body – the gastrointestinal process. From the moment the food forms into a bolus in our mouths and moves into the oesophagus a series of spontaneous contractions move the food through each of the digestive organs. This motility allows food to move around the system with the time needed to breakdown the food and to allow the body to absorb the necessary nutrients. Now looking at our Kyphotic client above you can see how the organs are compacted down on top of each other displacing each organ but probably more destructively affecting this flow of nutrients. With less space, and reduced motility you may struggle for food to be properly digested, absorbed and eliminated from the body. Stomach problems, reflux, bowel problems, and malnutrition? Could posture be playing a significant part in some of these illnesses?
How do we fix the problem? Research has shown that in order to strengthen a long weak muscle, you first must release the short, tight, over active muscles. This is where Soft Tissue Work comes to the fore. Postural Changes take time and dedication to correct. That time is significantly reduced if you apply soft tissue techniques to release those short tight angry muscles and start engaging the long lethargic weak ones. Couple this with corrective exercise and the advancements are huge. Strength work alone can push you further into dysfunction; this is why it is important to understand what you need to be stretching as well as what you need to be building up.
Finally, what I feel is probably the most important step to correcting postural dysfunction is correcting your breathing pattern. The gateway to Posture, Breathing and our Digestive system – the Diaphragm. The diaphragm a large umbrella like muscle which attaches to the ribs and the spine and through which runs the vena cava and the oesophagus. All three areas we have touched on all connected by our key muscle of breathing. Does this muscle hold the key to fixing our posture, our breathing, our motility and even our emotions? If this muscles is restricted, stuck, unmoving, what impact could that have on the flow or what should flow through this space? On a muscular level, it impacts the pelvic floor, the hip flexors and more. Learn to engage your diaphragm and you learn how to reconnect to your true ‘Core’. Breathing retraining is so key to treating many injuries but I think it is particularly potent in postural retraining and something so simple to change with the right advice and some dedication.
In the words of one of my favourite practitioners and teachers Noah Karrasch – ‘I tell clients if they’d just drink more water, stretch and learn to breathe correctly, they’d probably never need to see me again.’. Could the key to good health and well being be this simple?
- Posture, movement patterns, and body awareness in women with chronic pelvic pain. (2006 Haugstad and Haugstad) – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17084141
- Diaphragmatic spasm: a neglected cause of dyspnea and chest pain. Wolf S. Integr Physiol Behav Sci 1994;29:74–6
- Anxiety and respiratory patterns: their relationship during mental stress and physical load. Masaoka Y, Homma I. Int J Psychophysiol 1997;27:153–9
- What are breathing pattern disorders? Leon Chaitow, Dinah Bradley, Chris Gilbert
- Pain and faulty breathing: a pilot study. Perri MA, Halford E. J Bodyw Mov Ther 2004;8:297–306.
- Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release. Noah Karrasch.