The Importance of Good Posture

Posture ranks right up at the top of the list when you are talking about good health. It is as important as eating right, exercising, getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding potentially harmful substances like alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Good posture is a way of doing things with more energy, less stress and fatigue. Without good posture, you can’t really be physically fit.

Surprised? Well, you’re not alone. The importance of good posture in an overall fitness program is often overlooked by fitness advisers and fitness seekers alike. In fact, the benefits of good posture may be among the best kept secrets of the current fitness movement. The good news is that most everyone can avoid the problems caused by bad posture…and you can make improvements at any age.

Good Posture is Good Health

We’re a health conscious society today and good posture is a part of it. Because good posture means your bones are properly aligned and your muscles, joints and ligaments can work as nature intended. It means your vital organs are in the right position and can function at peak efficiency. Good posture helps contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system.

Without good posture, your overall health and total efficiency may be compromised. Because the long-term effects of poor posture can affect bodily systems (such as digestion, elimination, breathing, muscles, joints and ligaments), a person who has poor posture may often be tired or unable to work efficiently or move properly.

Even for younger people, how you carry yourself when working, relaxing or playing can have big effects. Did you know that just fifteen minutes reading or typing when using the wrong positions exhausts the muscles of your neck, shoulders and upper back?

Poor Posture – How Does it Happen?

Often, poor posture develops because of accidents or falls. But bad posture can also develop from environmental factors or bad habits. This means that you have control.

Today, posture-related problems are increasing:

  • As we become a society that watches more television than any previous generation;
  • As we become a more electronic society, with more and more people working at sedentary desk jobs or sitting in front of computer terminals;
  • As more and more cars are crowding our roads, resulting in accidents and injuries;
  • And as we drive in cars with poorly designed seats.

In most cases, poor posture results from a combination of several factors, which can include:

  • Accidents, injuries and falls
  • Poor sleep support (mattress)
  • Excessive weight
  • Visual or emotional difficulties
  • Foot problems or improper shoes
  • Weak muscles, muscle imbalance
  • Careless sitting, standing, sleeping habits
  • Negative self image
  • Occupational stress
  • Poorly designed work space
  • Poor Posture & Pain

A lifetime of poor posture can start a progression of symptoms in the average adult. It can start with…

Fatigue – your muscles have to work hard just to hold you up if you have poor posture. You waste energy just moving, leaving you without the extra energy you need to feel good.

Tight, achy muscles in the neck, back, arms and legs – by this stage, there may be a change in your muscles and ligaments and you may have a stiff, tight painful feeling. More than 80% of the neck and back problems are the result of tight, achy muscles brought on by years of bad posture.

Joint stiffness and pain – at risk for “wear and tear” arthritis, or what is termed degenerative osteoarthritis. Poor posture and limited mobility increase the likelihood of this condition in later years.

Self-Test for Posture Problems

The Wall Test – Stand with the back of your head touching the wall and your heels six inches from the baseboard. With your buttocks touching the wall, check the distance with your hand between your lower back and the wall, and your neck and the wall. If you can get within an inch or two at the low back and two inches at the neck, you are close to having excellent posture. If not, your posture may need professional attention to restore the normal curves of your spine.

The Mirror Test

(Front view) Stand facing a full length mirror and check to see if:

  • Your shoulders are level
  • Your head is straight
  • The spaces between your arms and sides seem equal
  • Your hips are level, your kneecaps face straight ahead
  • Your ankles are straight

(Side View) This is much easier to do with the help of another, or by taking a photo.

Check for the following:

  • Head is erect, not slumping forward or backwards
  • Chin is parallel to the floor, not tilting up or down
  • Shoulders are in line with ears, not drooping forward or pulled back
  • Stomach is flat
  • Knees are straight
  • Lower back has a slightly forward curve (not too flat or not curved too much forward, creating a hollow back).

The ‘Jump’ Test – Feel the muscles of your neck and shoulders. Do you find areas that are tender and sensitive? Are the buttock muscles sore when you apply pressure? What about the chest muscles?

Lifestyle Tips for Lifelong Good Posture

  • Keep your weight down – excess weight, especially around the middle, pulls on the back, weakening stomach muscles.
  • Develop a regular program of exercise – regular exercise keeps you flexible and helps tone your muscles to support proper posture.
  • Buy good bedding – a firm mattress will support the spine and help maintain the same shape as a person with good upright posture.
  • Pay attention to injuries from bumps, falls and jars – injuries in youth may cause growth abnormalities or postural adaptations to the injury or pain that can show up later in life.
  • Have your eyes examined – a vision problem can affect the way you carry yourself as well as cause eyestrain.
  • Be conscious of where you work – is your chair high enough to fit your desk? Do you need a footrest to keep pressure off your legs?
  • Straighten Up and Stay Healthy!

Kids, Parents and Posture

Standing up straight is important for everyone, but at no time is it more crucial to develop the habits of good posture than in childhood. Many adults with chronic back pain can trace the problem to years of bad posture habits or injuries in childhood.

Because they are growing and more active, children may be at even more risk for injury to the back and spine. According to studies, there is a significantly high risk associated with football, trampolining and gymnastics. More than 1/3 of all high school football players sustain some type of injury. As a parent, seek professional help for children in the event of even a minor sports injury. Parents should also be aware that babies who are not strapped into an auto safety seat run the risk of injury and even death in the event of a quick stop or an accident.

Good Posture & Aging

Poor posture extracts a high price as you age because it can:

  • Limit your range of motion – muscles can be permanently shortened or stretched when a slumped over position becomes your normal position. Muscles and ligaments that have been shortened or stretched no longer function, as they should.
  • Increase discomfort and pain – it can often cause headaches and pain in the shoulders, arms, hands and around the eyes resulting from a forward-head position. Rounded shoulders can trigger the headaches at the base of your skull where the shoulder muscles attach.
  • Create pain in the jaw – a forward-head position can lead to jaw pain. This kind of pain (known as TMJ, temporomandibular joint disease) was once considered only a dental problem. Today we know that TMJ pain also may be caused or aggravated by faulty posture.
  • Decrease lung capacity – reducing the amount of oxygen in your body can decrease the space in your chest cavity, restricting efficient functioning of your lungs.
  • Cause low back pain – one of the most common consequences of bad posture. For people over 35, low back pain is often interpreted as a sure sign of age, although it may have been developing since childhood.
  • Cause nerve interference – your spine is the basis of posture. If your posture is bad, your spine can be misaligned. Spinal misalignments may cause interference in nerve function.
  • Affect proper bowel function – even this important bodily task may be affected by faulty posture. If you have a rounded shoulder, head-forward posture, it may affect your bowels. If your spine arches and sways forward, your intestines may sag and cause constipation.
  • Make you look older than you are – when you are slumped over, or hunched over, not standing straight, you can add years to your appearance. For women, the more rounded the shoulders, the more breasts may sag. Any woman, no matter what her age, can help reduce the sag in her breasts by nearly 50% by simply standing tall.

Improving your posture

When standing – hold your head high, chin firmly forward, shoulders back, chest out, and stomach tucked in to increase your balance. If you stand all day in a job like a cashier or clerk, rest one foot on a stool or take breaks to get off your feet for a while.

When sitting – use a chair with firm low back support. Keep desk or table top elbow high, adjust the chair or use a footrest to keep pressure off the back of the legs, and keep your knees a little higher than your hips. Get up and stretch frequently–every hour if you sit for long periods of time. Do not sit on a fat wallet; it can cause hip imbalance!

When working on a computer – take a one or two minute task break every 20 minutes when you work at a computer screen. Keep the screen 15 degrees below eye level. Place reference materials on a copy stand even with and close to the terminal.

When sitting in the car – adjust the seat forward so your knees are higher than your hips. Put a small pillow or cushion in the small of your back.

When sleeping – sleep on your side with your knees bent and head supported by a pillow, to make your head level with your spine. Or, sleep on your back, avoiding thick pillows under your head. Use a small pillow under your neck instead. Don’t sleep on your stomach.

When lifting – let your legs do the work in order to prevent injury to your low back. Stand close to the object, then where possible squat down and straddle it. Grasp the object, and slowly lift the load by straightening your legs as you stand up. Carry the object close to your body.

When bending – never twist from the waist and bend forward at the same time. To lift or reach something on the floor, bend the knees while keeping the back straight.

Source: Kansas Chiropractic Foundation

Older Adults with Heart Disease Can Become More Independent and Heart Healthy with Physical Activity

Improving physical activity among older adults with heart disease benefits their heart health, independence and quality of life, according to a new American Heart Association scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Physical activity helps reduce heart disease symptoms for patients with heart failure, heart attacks and stroke, and it also helps to improve the age-related erosions of strength, balance, and reduces frailty that particularly affect older heart patients. It is important part of care for the growing population of older adults with heart disease.

“Many healthcare providers are focused only on the medical management of diseases, such as heart failure, heart attacks, valvular heart disease and strokes, without directly focusing on helping patients maximize their physical function,” said Daniel E. Forman, M.D., the geriatric cardiologist who chaired the American Heart Association panel that drafted the new statement.

“Yet, after a heart attack or other cardiac event, most patients also want to regain physical capacity and confidence to maintain their independence and quality of life, such as the ability to lift a grocery bag and to carry it to their car,” Forman said.

Aerobic fitness is a measure of how well the body transports oxygen during sustained exercise, which tends to decline with age. Older adults with heart disease are at added risk for frailty — unintentional weight loss, exhaustion, slowness while walking and low levels of physical activity – which often limits their ability to return to an active and independent life after a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, even if their heart disease was treated with the correct medications and procedures.

“Emphasizing physical function as a fundamental part of therapy can improve older patients’ quality of life and their ability to carry out activities of daily living. Patients in their 70s, 80s and older can benefit,” said Forman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in Pennsylvania.

Cardiac rehabilitation is one crucial tool for helping elderly heart patients restore and maintain function. These programs provide exercise counseling and training to promote heart health, manage stress and depression, and educate people on proper nutrition, tobacco cessation and other topics. It is especially important in helping older adults gain confidence and stamina after an illness and hospitalization. But nationally, only about one-third or fewer of eligible, elderly, cardiac patients get such care.

“Cardiac rehabilitation is not prescribed often enough,” Forman said. “When treating cardiac patients in their 70s, 80s and 90s, healthcare providers often stress medications and procedures without considering the importance of getting patients back on their feet, which is exactly what cardiac rehabilitation programs are designed to do.”

Even without a formal cardiac rehabilitation program, keeping patients’ personal goals in mind, doctors can tailor physical activity advice to help them improve their physical function and remain independent, according to the statement. Daily walking has been linked to better health. Resistance and balance training can reduce the risk for falls. Tai chi and yoga combine strength, aerobic and balance elements. Even encouraging patients to do more chores around the house can be helpful, Forman said.

Medicines that are staples in cardiology can ironically complicate the picture of how well patients function in daily life. For example, cholesterol-lowering drugs can sometimes cause muscle pain, anti-ischemic drugs may cause fatigue and blood pressure drugs may cause dehydration, dizziness and falls, Forman said.

“By the time they’re 75, about half of cardiac patients are taking more than 10 medications, and they can have cumulative effects that are uncertain and which can be debilitating,” Forman said. “We really have to talk to patients and weigh the benefits versus the risk of each medication, especially if they seem to be contributing to a lower level of physical function.”

The new statement details an array of methods for healthcare providers to measure factors related to functional status in older patients to help improve their quality of life and ability to remain independent. Capabilities should be assessed as part of every regular physical exam to track where people are and to detect sudden declines. It is also vital to assess functional benchmarks after medical procedures or hospitalizations, which can cause a loss of muscle mass and a functional setback, he said.

The issue is growing in importance as the number of Americans age 65 or older is expected to double between 2010 and 2050, ultimately accounting for one-fourth of the U.S. population, the statement noted.

Source: American Heart Association


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Ouch! How to Tell If You Have a Sprain, a Strain or a Tear

Sprains, strains and tears are different types of injuries, and it’s important to know how they differ, a sports massage therapist says.

A sprain is the overstretching or tearing of ligaments, which are the tissues that connect bones to each other and stabilize them.

“Sprains occur when the joint is forced into an unnatural position. They happen most often in the ankle but can occur at any joint, such as the wrist or knee,” said Martin Mufich. He is also a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Nursing.

Symptoms of a sprain include joint or muscle pain, inflammation, hampered movement, tenderness and bruising.

“A mild sprain should take approximately seven to 10 days to heal,” Mufich said in a university news release.

“A torn ligament is considered a severe sprain that will cause pain, inflammation, bruising and result in ankle instability, often making it difficult and painful to walk. Recovery from a torn ligament may take several weeks, and should be done under the supervision of a health-care provider,” he explained.

A strain is the overstretching or tearing of a muscle or a tendon, which connects the muscles to the bones. It can occur from a single incident or over time.

“An acute strain is an instantaneous stretch or tear of the muscle or tendon, whereas, a chronic strain stems from repetitive motions over time that place stress on the muscle or tendon,” Mufich said.

Symptoms of a strain include muscle spasms, weakness, cramping, immobility, pain, bruising and swelling. It can take a few weeks for symptoms of a mild-to-moderate strain to ease, he explained.

A tear is the ripping of tissue in ligaments, muscles or tendons.

“Typically, the worse a tear, the more inflammation and pain a person will experience, and the longer it will take for the injury to heal,” Mufich said.

In general, the treatment for sprains, strains and tears involves a plan called “RICES” — Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Stabilization.

However, for some severe tears, such as those of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee, surgery may be needed.

Mufich said that it is normal to experience some discomfort during the healing process from any of these injuries, but there should not be any sharp pain.

“If you are not seeing improvements within 24 hours or it is getting worse, contact a health-care provider,” he advised.

Source: HealthDay

Sea Urchin Spines Could Fix Bones

More than 2 million procedures every year take place around the world to heal bone fractures and defects from trauma or disease, making bone the second most commonly transplanted tissue after blood. To help improve the outcomes of these surgeries, scientists have developed a new grafting material from sea urchin spines. They report their degradable bone scaffold, which they tested in animals, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Physicians have various approaches at hand to treat bone defects: Replacement material can come from a patient’s own body, donated tissue, or a synthetic or naturally derived product. All of these methods, however, have limitations. For example, current bioceramics, such as hydroxyapatite, that have been used as scaffolds for bone repair tend to be weak and brittle, which can lead to pieces breaking off. These pieces can then move into adjacent soft tissue, causing inflammation. Recent studies have shown that biological materials, such as sea urchin spines, have promise as bone scaffolds because of their porosity and strength. Xing Zhang, Zheng Guo, Yue Zhu and colleagues wanted to test this idea in more detail.

Using a hydrothermal reaction, the researchers converted sea urchin spines to biodegradable magnesium-substituted tricalcium phosphate scaffolds while maintaining the spines’ original interconnected, porous structure. Unlike hydroxyapatite, the scaffolds made from sea urchin spines could be cut and drilled to a specified shape and size. Testing on rabbits and beagles showed that bone cells and nutrients could flow through the pores and promote bone formation. Also, the scaffold degraded easily as it was replaced by the new growth. The researchers say their findings could inspire the design of new lightweight materials for repairing bones.

Source: American Chemical Society


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Weight-Bearing Exercises Promote Bone Formation in Men

RoseAnn Sorce wrote . . . . . .

“People may be physically active, and many times people know they need to exercise to prevent obesity, heart disease or diabetes,” Hinton said. “However, you also really need to do specific exercises to protect your bone health.”

In the study, men 25- to 60-years-old who had low-bone mass were split into two groups. One group performed resistance training exercises such as lunges and squats using free weights. The other group performed various types of jumps, such as single-leg and double-leg jumps. After 12 months of performing the exercises, Hinton then compared the levels of bone proteins and hormones in the blood.

“We saw a decrease in the level of sclerostin in both of these exercise interventions in men,” Hinton said. “When sclerostin is expressed at high levels, it has a negative impact on bone formation. In both resistance and jump training, the level of sclerostin in the bone goes down, which triggers bone formation.”

The other significant change Hinton observed was an increase in the hormone IGF-1. Unlike sclerostin, IGF-1 triggers bone growth. The decrease of harmful sclerostin levels and the increase in beneficial IGF-1 levels confirmed Hinton’s prior research that found both resistance training and jump training have beneficial effects on bone growth.

To increase bone mass and prevent osteoporosis, Hinton recommends exercising specifically to target bone health. While exercises such as swimming and cycling are beneficial to overall health, these activities do not strengthen the skeleton. Hinton suggests also doing exercise targeted for bone health, such as resistance training and jump training.

The study was published in Bone.

Source: University of Missouri


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