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Sit up straight. Your mother or grandmother may have repeated this to you when you were younger. As it turns out, she had a valid point. How can you keep from looking like a hunched-over grandma or grandpa, before your time? How can you reap the health benefits of good posture? Here are some facts and tips, courtesy of the Unified Virginia Chiropractic Association.
When folded up in the womb, we're shaped like the letter "C." This is the "primary curve." Then we are born, and we develop secondary curves that arch in the other direction. These gentle curves occur in the neck (cervical spine) and low back (lumbar spine), and they round out the normal curves present in healthy, young spines. As time marches on, with gravity, muscular wasting, and spinal degeneration taking their toll, many of us will begin reverting back to the primary curve. In other words, we start "hunching" forward, looking more and more like so many grandparents, and less and less like the vibrant, youthful people we once were.
Gravity and bad habits are the two primary culprits in most "kyphotic" (hunched over) senior postures. Gravity is non-negotiable, so that leaves us with what we CAN control: Our muscles, our habits, and our choices. Being overweight puts stresses on the spine, knees, hips, and feet. If you're carrying a few -- or more than a few -- extra pounds, consider making some changes towards a healthy balanced diet and an exercise program that fits your body, your personality, and your time constraints. Your doctor of chiropractic may have some great tips, if you've got a willing ear. If your weight-gain is because you're pregnant, chiropractic care can help your body adapt to the temporary stresses upon it -- with the added benefits of decreasing incidence of pregnancy back pain and back labor.1 In all cases, having a competent "core" will help to counter the merciless effects of gravity on your posture. Your doctor of chiropractic can help guide you on the path to core strength; and may also choose to connect you with more extensive resources, if you'd like to take your core strength to the next level.
Many of us experience our postural stresses in a chair. Whether you drive a truck for a living, spend time hunched over in front of the computer, read a lot, or enjoy knitting or quilting, so many of life's work and leisure activities involve sitting and forward (kyphotic) postures. It's no wonder that we end up bent forward, if we train our bodies to do just that! Over time, spinal and other ligaments (which connect bones to bones) can stretch and undergo what is known as plastic deformation.2 Elastic deformation is when a tissue stretches and goes back to its original length. Plastic deformation is more like what happens when you stretch out a container due to prolonged stress -- it permanently reshapes and deforms. The challenge is for us to allow tissues to recover from the daily stresses of life, including sitting. Take frequent breaks from sitting; and consider rotating your work or leisure activities, if that's an option for you.
Mirror image exercises are precisely what you might think they are: taking the postural "distortion," and practicing its opposite. If your head tends to drift in front of your shoulders, practice "retracting" your head to counter that drift.3 If your pelvis tends to tip forward, learn to activate the muscles that counter that rotation. The challenge is to identify your particular patterns or distortions, and to overcome them -- safely. Doctors of chiropractic are trained in the function of the nervous system, which is the master system that controls both conscious and unconscious postural and movement patterns. In addition, your chiropractor is also trained in the relationships of the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your entire body -- with a special emphasis on the spine and related structures. Jumping into an exercise or stretching program is not recommended; rather, your doctor of chiropractic can help identify tight areas that need to be stretched, and weak or inhibited areas that need to be strengthened (and NOT stretched). Your chiropractor is also likely to adjust or manipulate related spinal, pelvic, and/or extremity joints that may be physically restricting your function and inhibiting normal patterns. You can "do it yourself" . . . or you can "do it right" -- with a little help from a trained professional.Click here to listen to Posture
References 1-3 are available at www.virginiachiropractic.org.