wo physical therapists — Julie Schauble, and Shivangi Potdar, — who help patients at Northwest Community Healthcare, provide some answers, addressing the effects of poor posture and ways to combat it.
Q: Why do we tend to slump?
Schauble: An upright, lengthened, tall, decompressed posture requires active muscle control. We have to activate our core/postural muscles. When we slump, we sink into gravity as it pulls us downward. Though slumping takes less active muscle activation and energy, it causes increased compression on joints and surrounding soft tissue, which ultimately causes more pain.
Q: Why are more people turning to physical therapy to correct things like poor posture?
Potdar: What we’re finding out is that a lot of the first line of defense for musculoskeletal problems is physical therapy. It’s noninvasive, less cost to the insurance than expensive tests and surgeries, and it’s much more convenient for patients.
Q: What changes take place as people age and how do they affect posture?
Schauble: Bone mass or density is lost as people age. Especially in women after menopause, the bones lose calcium and other minerals. The trunk becomes shorter as the discs in the spine gradually lose fluid and become thinner. The vertebrae lose some of their mineral content, making each bone thinner. The spinal column becomes curved and compressed (packed together). Foot arches become less pronounced, so we can become more flat-footed, contributing to a slight loss of height. Hip and knee joints may lose joint structure.
Q: How can physical therapy help?
Potdar: There is a customized approach to getting better as we work with people individually. We can identify what muscle groups are weak and also what a patient’s goals may be. At the new NCH Outpatient Care Center, we have access not only to the equipment in the clinic but because of the Foglia Foundation Health and Recreation Center at Harper College, we have access to all of that equipment. We can make sure patients are pain-free, their form is great when exercising, and that they know how to take care of their bodies, including posture.
Q: How does one develop forward head posture or text neck?
Schauble: Forward Head Posture (FHP) (or text neck) is a condition where the head/neck juts forward on the shoulders, causing anterior tilting of the cervical spine (neck). For every inch, the head moves forward on the shoulders, the weight of the head as it compresses the cervical spine can increase by at least 10 pounds. This means that if the weight of the head is 12 pounds and the head just past the shoulders by three inches, it puts 42 pounds of pressure on the cervical spine, requiring more muscle energy (especially from the back of the neck) to hold the head up.
Q: What causes FHP and how can we combat it?
Schauble: It’s related to a multitude of daily repetitive bad habits. You may have sofa neck, computer neck, reader’s neck, driver’s neck, text neck, poor or bad sleeping positions, incorrect breathing habits, carrying heavy backpacks, and/or injuries to the back or neck.
You can try holding your cell phone at a higher angle so that you are not looking down so forcefully. Use voice texting rather than typing, which requires less looking down. You can do postural exercises for your posterior chain (back of your body) to strengthen your postural muscles. You can benefit from physical therapy to get you started.
Q: What if you don’t know if your posture is good or bad?
Potdar: For an example, a person who experiences hip pain might get a posture alignment and we might talk about the structure of the hips and sitting differently. There’s education involved. We can do exercises to strengthen the hips and correct the alignment. For one patient, we figured out that her feet didn’t touch the ground when she was sitting at her desk chair because she is shorter and most chairs aren’t designed for shorter people.
Q: How can you help patients whose posture is affected by their professions?
Potdar: We get patients who have to do heavy lifting at their jobs repetitively and this can lead to injury. We look at how patients can modify their behaviors and do certain exercises and stretches so their bodies will last longer without certain stresses.
To begin physical therapy, a referral from a physician is needed. Northwest Community Healthcare offers physical therapy at seven locations throughout the suburbs. For more information, visit www.nch.org/physicalrehab. To make an appointment, call (847) 618-3550.