February 7, 2010

Could You Wallet Be Causing Back Pain?

What Does Your Posture Do For You?
Your whole life elders tell you to sit up straight and so you try to. It's a little painful, feels a bit too proper... Before you know it you find yourself slowly leaning off to the side and slump back into the chair. It all feels so much cozier this way

Unfortunately, continuous improper posture causes more pain than you may ever know. There are everyday habits we get into (such as storing a half inch thick wallet in your back pocket) that can open up a whole world of pain. The good news is, there are some choices you can make now to prevent from ever knowing such pains. These same choices may even help to reverse existing pain.

 Retraining your body to optimal posture does not happen over night. After weeks of practice, you may still possibly find yourself wound comfortably in a slump. Honestly, the most important step is postural self-observation, which we will get to in a moment. 

Improper Posture Has Many Causes and Effects
Not only does poor posture change your bodies’ optimal form, it may also restrict your lung capacity and therefore compensate your breathing. In some more severe cases, it may be an influential factor to functional scoliosis. Functional scoliosis is a type of scoliosis that develops over time from improper posture. You can easily experience pain from a slightly altered posture before reaching a point of functional scoliosis.

The Human Skeletal Body is much Like a Spider Web…

… When you tug on one area, another area is influenced and gives way.

Your muscles, from head to toe, are more or less connected to one another. A tight or shortened muscle on the side of your thigh may tug on and effect muscles in your hips, all the way up back and possibly even to your neck.

Causes of Improper Posture
There are a countless number of things that may cause poor posture. An injury to an individuals left leg may cause them to place more weight on their right leg until that injury heals. As mentioned above, there may be a snug wallet in a back pocket, which elevates one side of your body during every sitting. These may seem inconsequential, when in reality they are training your very adaptable body to alter its form. Another common influence of improper posture may occur from carrying a heavy satchel on one shoulder over long periods of time.

An individual who carries a heavy satchel on their right shoulder will more than likely shift most of their weight onto their right leg and hip. Individuals who use a shoulder bag should be aware to evenly distribute the weight to both shoulders or consider switching to a back pack.

Effects of Improper Posture Due to a Heavy Satchel
Imagine you are holding a satchel on your right side; it weighs about 7-10 pounds and pulls down on your right shoulder. Take note of how you are standing… are you standing upright? Maybe you are slightly bent at the torso, leaning to the side and maybe even tilting your head. That’s more like it. Now, imagine standing just like this and make the bag disappear. It’s kind of ridiculous right? Who wouldn’t be hurting even without the bag?!

There are countless individuals that do this day after day, commuting with a laptop, pounds of paperwork, mail or books. Over time, the muscles on the right side of the neck and torso will be trained to be in a shortened position. The muscles on the left side, constantly being over stretched, will lengthen. The shortening of the muscles on the right side may even curve the spinal column to the right--thus causing a functional scoliosis.

Common Postural Habits of the Head, Neck and Shoulders
We often allow our head and chin to slide forward. Such a change often may influence our shoulders to roll inward, allowing our chest also to sink inward and finally our pelvis to tilt forward. This is one of many chain reactions that can occur from a simple postural deviation of the head and chin.

Ever wonder why the back of your neck is always aching and stiff? The average head weighs about 8-12lbs, holding your head in the improper forward position puts 8-12 lbs. on your neck muscles! Try shifting your chin up, shoulders back and let your arms hang relaxed at your sides. This allows those over stretched muscles on the back of your neck to soften and relax. It is suggested that you also look further into proper sleeping pillows. The average person sleeps 1/3 of their life so it is ideal for your posture to be at its best while doing so.

Cultivating Postural Awareness through Stretching, Yoga and Massage
Be sure to listen to your body, if you experience discomfort during any of the following exercises be sure to stop.

Stand up with your hands relaxed at your sides; extend your chin forward as far from your neck as possible and now extend your neck from your body. Try to imitate a turtle coming out of its shell as best as you can. Now shift your head backwards, align it straight over the neck, stretching it back a bit further than what seems normal; now bring it back to center. This is where you should naturally hold your head, upon your spine while looking straight ahead. Repeat this a few times, observing how it feels.

Now roll your shoulders inward, allowing your chest to sink in--then pull your shoulders straight back and open up your chest. Repeat this three times and noticing how this affects your breathing. You can do the same thing with your pelvic and hip area. Tilt your pelvis forward, allowing your abdomen and buttocks to stick out. Now tilt your pelvis backwards by allowing your buttocks to move forward and down. Notice how this affects the curve of your spine, your height, and your ability to breathe.

In yoga class we are taught that in proper posture, our chest should be slightly tilted back, and our knees are to be soft, never hyper extended. Now, while still standing, adjust your body in such a manner. Voila! This automatically shifts your head and shoulders back! I have found that this is the most helpful tip regarding posture. You may even try this with a friend so that you can observe what these changes look like. Surprisingly; what feels like a stiff military stance to you may actually look relaxed and proper. This may seem superficial, but really, how many of you out there are going to try to improve your posture if you not only feel but look stiff? Your muscles will retrain themselves and also begin to soften.

Some of the most effective ways of speeding up the process of correcting one's posture is through stretching yoga and massage. You always want to be careful as to not overstretch your muscles. It is best to hold a stretch comfortably for approximately 2-3 minutes to get the full effect. This is the time it takes for all of the soft tissues to become pliable. Relax, take advantage of this time and allow for some long, slow, deep breathes. Patricia Walden has a wonderful yoga video series that is excellent, especially if you are a beginner. It may be helpful to have a certified yoga instructor show you how to stand properly from the ground up.

Postural awareness and taking time to stretch are great keys to improving your posture. They may allow you to actively observe and improve your posture on a daily basis. Remember, this is something you can do for yourself, to prevent years of pain down the road. So, take your time and be kind to yourself in the process.

Money can be a pain in the Butt
As for the wallet dilemma...I have two options my massage instructor, Denise Logsdon, once shared:

1.) Find an alternative vessel to home your wallet's contents. Do not let it nest in your back pocket day after day. (Fanny pack anyone???)


 2.) If you simply cannot do without a wallet forever nesting in your back pocket, place an object of similar shape and diameter in the opposing back pocket. For those of you who are not concerned with possible cell phone radiation, a cell phone may work well in size and shape. Such objects act as a balancing booster for your bum that could save you years of pain down the road.

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