In 2012, Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, chief of spinal surgery at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, conducted what is now viewed by many as a landmark study. The premise behind Dr. Hansraj’s study was that when billions of people use their smartphones for hours each day, they often do so with very poor posture – the head leaning forward and down. The purpose of his study was to determine the incremental forces this position exerts on the cervical spine to help surgeons understand the reconstruction of the neck.
Dr. Hansraj concluded that the weight of the head – experienced as force on the neck and spine – dramatically increases as the head tilts forward. An adult head weighs on average between 10 and 12 lbs., but the forces experienced by the neck and shoulders increase as the head moves forward. Specifically, when the head tilts forward 15 degrees, the force to the cervical spine is equivalent to a head weighing 27 lbs. At 30 degrees, the force increases to 40 lbs.; at 45 degrees, to 49 lbs.; and at 60 degrees, to 60 lbs. – approximately 10 times the force of the head without any tilt.
Although Dr. Hansraj’s study arose in the context of poor posture from using a smartphone, the concerns apply to all poor posture. In each case, as the head tilts forward, the body balance must shift (to avoid falling), requiring counterbalancing contractions in the posterior spinal muscles running from the back of the skull and neck down to the pelvis. Over time, the contraction of these muscles may create problems such as neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and back pain.
Have Some Backbone
The spinal column is comprised of 24 bones – referred to as vertebra – plus the skull and pelvis. Although the spine allows you to stand and sit up straight, the spine itself has three slight curves, which, together with the vertebrae, function as a shock absorber of sorts. The 24 vertebrae are classified into three areas: 7 neck bones (referred to as the cervical spine), 12 mid-back bones (the thoracic spine), and 5 lower-back bones (the lumbar spine). Each vertebra has multiple joints, and each spinal joint has an optimal ability to move and an optimal position. Factors that can contribute to poor posture include:
Good posture is not just about body positioning when you’re sitting, standing, or lying down (known as static posture), but also when you’re moving (known as dynamic posture). Your posture is the culmination of the actions and reactions of your entire musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, joints, and other tissues). How you hold yourself during static and dynamic posture can either align or misalign your musculoskeletal system.
Posture Issues and Age
Greg Bishop, an attorney in Park City, explains that poor posture rarely develops overnight. Rather – just like good posture – poor posture is formed habitually over many years. Complicating the matter is that as individuals age, they lose both muscle mass and bone mass, which often results in a decline in physical activity, which in turn can lead to even worse posture. It can be a vicious cycle. Indeed, as adults age, they often adopt a progressively hunched posture. As the shoulders round and the head moves forward, the hunch creates excessive loading on the shoulder joints and spine. This hunchbacked position – referred to as hyperkyphosis – affects up to two-thirds of women over the age of 65, and one-half of older men.
Unfortunately, older adults with poor posture may face a future with limited mobility and increased health problems. Indeed, recent research indicates that people with the greatest angle of spinal inclination are about three and a half times more likely to become dependent on others for basic daily activities. [Spinal inclination refers to the difference between true vertical and the line formed between the first thoracic vertebra (near the head) and the first sacral vertebra (in the lower spine).]
Sadly, some conditions that accentuate the curve in the upper spine – such as osteoporosis, vertebral fractures, and degenerative disc disease – are not easily addressed without medical intervention. However, if poor posture is the result of years of slouching, postural weakness, or limited flexibility, it can be significantly improved by being more purposeful. Mr. Bishop suggests adopting the following strategies:
About Greg Bishop, Attorney (Park City, UT)
Greg Bishop has a BA in English Literature, an MBA, a Juris Doctor, and three decades of experience in legal, compliance, and HR matters. In 2019, Utah Business Magazine ranked Mr. Bishop as among the “Legal Elite” for in-house attorneys in the State of Utah. However, he feels that the greatest thing he has to offer is his passion for living life to the fullest and helping and empowering others to do the same.
We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!