20 July 2011: Posture is a key to health

Posture is a key to health

The topic of obesity in America, which is directly related to diet and exercise, has been splashed across the media including this one of late. The Courant’s recent editions included major participatory local event stories including the Slacker Half-Marathon, Ride the Rockies, and Triple Bypass. It’s all good information as they give people head-over-heels involved with life’s daily rushes, pressures, and responsibilities “food for thought.”

There is a third leg not commonly addressed in discussions on health: posture.

“Your posture is a reflection of your health,” Dr. Jason Steinle of Health and Harmony Chiropractic in Bergen Park says.

I’ve worked with Steinle for nearly 6 years realigning my once “Quasimodo-like body.” Picture Charles Laughlin as the Hunchback of Notre Dame with stooped posture and hunched shoulder, and you get vivid imagary of the picture Steinle took of me when I first saw him about the excruciating pain in my right hip and plevis.

I’ve learned my experience is not unique. Our stressed-filled lives exert enormous pressure on not only our minds and mental state, but also our physical bodies.

Steinle holds that if one is stressed or depressed, he/she typically walks with shoulders rounded and head hanging low. On the other hand, if one feels great, he/she walks with body upright and erect.

In addition, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between one’s nervous system and his/her posture, which, in turn, “influences every tissue in your body,” according to Joseph Sweere, professor at Northwestern Health Science University.

The relationship is a two-way street. Posture influences one’s internal processes and one’s mental state impacts one’s posture.

Helping to shape our posture are objects we take for granted from footwear to office, school, and easy chairs. Over-stuffed, one-size-fits-all chairs, including those at which students spend an inordinate of time sitting or slouching, can exacerbate a poor posture.

Osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine has become a common malady often seen in people with poor posture, especially those with a sway back. Steinle says he finds it often in people who are overweight and on their feet most of the day, especially those standing on hard surfaces like concrete without proper foot support.

“When a person has a sway back their stomach gets pushed out and they look heavier than they are when standing with their head-up, shoulders open, and pelvis tucked.”

Osteoarthritis of the knee might be indicated if one feels stiffness especially in the process of standing up, when one’s knees give out while standing, or if swelling occurs.

“This is typical in people who are very active such as skiers especially if they do not have proper foot support leading to a rolling in or out of the knees,” says Steinle..

“Interestingly though, studies have not found an increase in osteoarthritis in long distance runners.”

Hmm…imagine that. Then ask yourself, “Why?”

What headaches and pain in the neck, knee, and lower back have in common is poor posture resulting in abnormal wear and tear on the joints. Consider how I’m pain free and exhibiting much-improved posture with increased flexibility that contributes to my improved running performance.

“Think about your car,” says Steinle. “If your tires are not properly aligned, they will wear out prematurely causing you to lose thousands of miles of road driving.

“The same is true with your bones if you are not aligned and moving properly. They will wear out sooner. Add aging and possibly being overweight to that, and you accelerate the problem.”

Underpinning it all is the support or lack thereof one’s foot gives. Last week I wrote briefly about how studies show how our over-designed—for comfort—walking/running shoe has contributed to considerable foot-pain issues such as planter fasciitis.

In Born to Run, Christopher McDougall draws on Dr. Gerard Hartmann, whom he calls the “Great and Powerful Oz for the world’s finest distance runners.”

When looking at the foot, one can see “a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries,” writes McDougall. “Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created.”

That web of bones, joints, tendons, and muscles all stretch and flex “like an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.”

Or should. If one doesn’t stretch and flex it, bad things happen, having repercussions throughout the rest of his/her body.

While a degree of pronation is natural, our modern shoes and lifestyles have contributed to an unnatural performance.

“The five red flags of pronation I look for include foot flare during gait, bowed Achilles tendons, internal knee rotation, low medial arches, and excessive shoe wear on the outside of the heel,” says Steinle.

Steinle’s analogy of a car’s frame and tire alignment is apt. I describe the process of adjusting my body as “hitting the reset button.” Decades of abuse cannot be undone in weeks, but it can be corrected.

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