Why is Good Posture Important?

Why is Good Posture Important?

Posture refers to the body’s alignment and positioning with respect to the force of gravity.  Whether we are standing, sitting or lying down, gravity exerts a force on our joints, ligaments and muscles.  Good posture involves distributing the force of gravity through our body so no one structure is overstressed, thus maintaining proper alignment and balance of the body.  Poor posture and improper alignment is most noticeable in the body’s musculature and skeletal structure.

Consider this example: an architect has to take the laws of gravity and weight distribution into account when he or she is designing a building.  And like a building with a poor foundation, a body with poor posture is less resistant to the strains and stresses we experience over the months, years and decades of life.  This is why someone with poor posture, or a poor skeletal foundation, is more susceptible to injuries, pains, and dysfunctions, and may take longer to recover as well.

When doctors or therapists look at someone’s posture, they generally first look at the alignment of the weight bearing joints in standing, for example your knees and your ankles.  Ideally from a back view the spine should have no lateral or sideways curvature and the legs should be symmetrical without undue angulation or inward/outward bending at the knees or ankles.  For example, you may have heard of someone being “bowlegged,” or of someone having “knock knees.”  These are common skeletal misalignments of the knee (figure 1).  You may have heard of “overpronation” of the ankles, or having high arches or flat feet.  These terms are used to describe postural misalignments at the ankle and foot (figure 2).  These are usually corrected by orthotics.

Figure 1 - Misalignments of the knee

Figure 2 - Misalignments of the foot and ankle

From a side view the spine should form a smooth S-shaped curve.  A plumb line is often used and dropped from the top of the head (apex), and down through the center of gravity of the body.  This same plumb line should pass through the ear lobe, the tip of the shoulder, the center of the hip joint, slightly behind the knee, and through the ankle joint (Figure 3).  With this ideal alignment the body’s weight is balanced over the spine and lower extremity joints, thus requiring minimum muscular effort to maintain yourself upright.  This alignment also evenly distributes pressure on the intervertebral discs and avoids excessive stress on the ligaments and discs of the spine.

Figure 3 - Plumb Line

The sitting position is where most of us get into trouble with poor postural habits.  This is especially true when driving or using a computer.  As we focus on the activity in front of us we tend to protrude the head and neck forward.  Because the body follows the head, the thoracic and lumbar spine tends to round forward as well.  When this occurs, the weight of the head and upper body is no longer balanced over the spinal column but instead must be supported by increased muscular energy, placing spinal ligaments on stretch (Figure 4).  Over time this leads to fatigue and eventually even pain in the neck and back.  Your shoulders may begin to look rounded forward, which can occur with computer work, driving with the seat too far back, or slouching forward for a long period of time.  Ideally then, the S-shaped curvature of the spine that is characteristic of good standing posture should be maintained in sitting as well.  This is best accomplished by sitting all the way back in a straight-backed chair and placing a folded towel or small pillow in the arch of the low back.  Fortunately, many new office chairs and car seats come with built-in lumbar supports and other adjustable featured.  This area of study is called ergonomics, and deals with optimizing posture and safety for the worker within his or her respective work environment.

Figure 4 - Sitting Posture

Sitting and standing with proper postural alignment will allow one to work more efficiently with less fatigue and strain on your body’s ligaments and muscles.  Being aware of good posture is the first step to breaking old poor postural habits and reducing stress and strain on your muscles and spine.  By putting this knowledge into practice one can prevent the structural anatomical changes that can develop if poor posture is left uncorrected for many years.

Sciatica Treatment

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Sciatic Nerve Pain – What is it?

What is Sciatica?

What is Sciatic Nerve Pain , or Sciatica?

Sciatica is a fairly common condition that refers to pain that originates in the sciatic nerve and often causes pain in the low back, buttocks, and down the leg.  This can range from mild to severe, intermittent or constant, chronic or acute.  Acute refers to the initial stages, and chronic refers to the later stages.  The pain follows the path of the sciatic nerve from the low back down the leg, and more commonly affects only one side.  Sciatica is not a condition in itself, but rather a set of symptoms that occur as a result of inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve – hence the term “sciatica.”

Sciatic nerve pain is very common and can affect people of all ages, however it is more prevalent as people reach their late thirties or beyond.  It affects both men and women.  When severe the pain can be quite crippling, making it difficult to walk, sit for long periods, go up stairs, or basically carry out a normal day.  It can also be quite a nuisance at times.   In the worst of cases, surgery may be required to correct the structural or mechanical cause of your symptoms.  Please note that surgery for sciatic nerve pain is rare and is usually due to a congenital defect,  structural abnormality, or trauma.  However, despite the possible severity of the symptoms (especially during the early or acute phase of sciatica), sciatic nerve pain is not usually a serious problem and in most cases will resolve with time and/or physiotherapy.

The word “sciatica” is a general term used to describe pain or a set of symptoms associated with irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve.   The medical community differentiates between two types of sciatica to help clarify the cause or origin ailment.  There are two different types of sciatica: true sciatica, or false sciatica.  True sciatica is caused by compression of the actual spinal nerve root in the lumbar spine or low back.  The main cause of this is a herniated disc, or a disc “bulge,” in the spine.  False sciatica, by contrast, is caused by compression peripheral to the spinal nerve root.  Please refer to the anatomy section of this website for a better explanation of nerve roots within the spinal cord and how they can be compressed.  Regardless of which type you have, the pain caused by true and false sciatica is identical.

Inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve, whether termed true or false sciatica, can be attributed to a number of causes, such as a disc herniation, piriformis syndrome, spinal stenosis, and many others.  It can happen gradually, suddenly, or develop after the original presenting injury or condition.   For example, you may initially have low back pain, and if left untreated you may start to notice some tingling or shooing pains down your leg.  Due to the multiple causes of sciatica, treatment may vary depending on the cause.   Your physiotherapist will help you determine the cause and course of treatment.

Sciatic Nerve Pain is launched!

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new website, www.SciaticNervePain.ca!  I’m very excited and will be sharing information about this topic over the next little while!  Stay tuned!