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Slouching Is Bad For You, Sit Up Straight!

Poor posture, along with the bony changes in the spine that can occur as people get older, can result in an increased rounding of the mid and upper back. This is called a kyphosis (ky-fo-sis), and when the curve becomes exaggerated at the junction between the neck and the trunk it may be referred to as a “dowager’s hump”.

The August 2008 edition of the Mayo Clinic Newsletter carries an article entitled “Preventing Kyphosis – A Hunched Back”.

Osteoporosis, thinning of the bones, is a common finding in older adults, especially women after the menopause, although it can affect people of all ages. Fractures in the spinal bones or vertebrae are also common and they can cause stiffness, tenderness of the area and pain.

Due to the way the bony struts inside the spinal bones are organized, the front part of the vertebrae is less strong than the rear. Combine this with the constant tendency of gravity to push us down into a bent position and this increases the forces through the fronts of the vertebrae.

With pressure on the anterior (front) aspects of the vertebrae, compression fractures can occur, small breaks in the interior scaffolding of the bone. This gives a wedging effect as the bone changes from a rectangular form to more like a thick wedge of cheese.

If you imagine putting lots of cheese wedges on top of each other you can see they would make a curve. In the spine this also occurs and causes the hump posture, reducing a person’s height. The stooped posture that results increases the forces acting on the fronts of vertebrae, giving a double whammy problem of causing further fractures.

A straight sitting posture reduces the forces which result from a stooped posture. Posture correction and spinal exercises can be provided by a physiotherapist, moving the spine into a straightened position. People with osteoporosis should generally avoided a stooped standing or sitting posture and not lift weights from the ground with a curved upper back.

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