It’s no surprise that your chiropractor might suspect you have back pain just by watching you move. But he can also identify the way you sleep, and maybe even what you do for a living.
No, he’s not a psychic – it’s just that your posture can reveal a lot more about your overall health and lifestyle than you might realise.
Here are seven things your chiropractor knows about you before your appointment even begins.
1. You’re Addicted to Your iPhone
One of the most common things chiropractors notice in their patients is a rounding of the spine along the neck and down toward the shoulder blades.
“There’s a new diagnosis for this – it’s called ‘text neck’,” says chiropractor Adam Nachmias.
Technically it’s called “loss of cervical lordis,” which describes the flattening out, or even reversing, of the upper spine’s natural C-shaped curve that happens when you’re hunched over looking at your phone or working on your computer, explains chiropractor Karen Erickson.
“We used to see this kind of condition in people who’d been in car wrecks,” she says. “Now we see it in eight-year-olds.” (And that’s just one weird thing that happens when you text.)
Your head weighs between 4.5 and 5.5kg and, according to a study published in the journal Surgical Technology International, it increases pressure on your spine the further you tip it forward.
Tilt your head 15 degrees and it puts 12kg of pressure on your spine, researchers found; 30 degrees is equal to 18kg of pressure; and 60 degrees equals 27kg of pressure. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of this hunching can lead to migraines, arthritis and neck pain.
You can help relieve some of the pain by training yourself to hold your phone at eye level while looking at it, or working at a stand-up desk, Erickson says.
2. You’re a Writer
Or an accountant. Or a truck driver. Basically, you spend most of your day sitting.
“The human body is not constructed for long periods of sitting,” says chiropractor Robert Hayden. “It’s designed to move and redistribute weight periodically.”
When you sit for long periods, your psoas muscles – the ones that connect the torso and legs – get tight and your hamstrings shorten. And that can show up as a tilted-forward-at-the-hips posture.
Lunges and yoga poses will help elongate these muscles, says Erickson, which in turn will help straighten out your posture. You can try stretching if you sit all day, but you must get moving.
“Going to the gym for an hour doesn’t negate the health consequences of sitting all day,” Erickson says. So make it a habit to get up and go for a stroll several times a day and resist the impulse to jump in the car to run errands that you could easily walk to.
3. You Have Stomach Issues
That hunched-forward position can also affect your digestion. When your upper back is curved, it can compress your organs, leading to gastric reflux.
“Once we work to release the muscles near the diaphragm and under the rib cage, my patients tell me that their reflux is much better,” says Erickson. “Your body is designed to use those big trunk muscles. When in use, they actually move blood through your organs and help them get the motility they’re supposed to have.”
4. You Sleep On Your Stomach
“While you’re asleep, the full weight of your head pulls on the flaccid muscles and ligaments that hold the cervical spine together,” explains Hayden. “That amount of weight on the delicate structures of the neck will eventually cause joint damage.”
This presents itself as a head that tilts downward, as well as pain, numbness or tingling sensations in your upper extremities.
Your fix: construct a DIY body pillow. Place one regular pillow between your knees to keep them and your shoulders the same distance apart, which will ensure that your lumbar spine stays in a natural position, Nachmias says.
At the same time, hug another regular pillow. This will keep you from rolling onto your stomach.
5. You’re Out Of Breath
Yet another side effect of that hunched posture is that it can compress your organs and cause your lungs to take in up to 30 per cent less oxygen, Erickson says.
Depending on your overall fitness level, she explains, this might make you feel tired or out of breath on a day-to-day basis.
6. You Lug Around Your Laptop All Day
When you carry something heavy, you tend to hike up the shoulder that’s supporting the load. The habit can lead to misaligned shoulders, which will be visibly obvious, as well as changes to the curvature of your spine, says Nachmias.
“Alternating the side of the bag will help keep one side from carrying all the weight and prevent a drooping shoulder or curving of the spine,” Hayden says.
7. You’re Feeling Down
“When I look at someone walk, if they avoid eye contact and their shoulders are rounded and stooped, it tells me something about their self-image,” Hayden says. “It tells me how they feel about themselves.”
Your emotions can control your musculoskeletal structure. Looking down as you walk will also mess with your balance, says Erickson.
So walk like royalty, keeping your head upright and gazing 50 metres in front of you. “This actually helps train your nervous system to use innate neurological balance, rather than relying on your eyes to balance.”