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Q:  Dr. Levin,
I notice that my dad’s posture is beginning to get worse.  He is only 58, yet he’s starting to walk a little bent over with his head held forward.  Is there anything that he can do about this?

-Pam


A:  Dear Pam,
Yes, there is quite a bit that he can do about it, and it’s essential that he begin immediately!

First, I’ll explain why this problem, which you describe, is so common.  Then, I’ll let you know what he and the rest of our readers can do about it.

All day long we sit in a bent forward posture, pouring over a desk or staring into a computer monitor.  We rarely have to look up or work over head.  Over time this chronic forward positioning begins to remodel our spine into a forward flexed position.  It literally stretches the ligaments in the back of our spine while shortening the ligaments in the front of the spine.

Getting Older Doesn’t Help
Unfortunately, as we age this postural change is programmed into our genetics.  It’s somewhat natural for us to develop a forward bend unless we work to stop it.  With age people tend to get weaker and perform less physical activity.  Thus, weakened back muscles, little exercise, constant forward bending, little need to extend the spine and a genetic predisposition all come together to make a forward bending posture, an almost nature conclusion, in our culture.

How Do I Stop It
As the old adage states: Stand up straight.  Ah… but easier said than done, as I’m sure you’re father has already told you.  Yet he should try to be conscientious and stand with good posture as often as possible.

Build Up Those Postural Muscles
He needs to strengthen his postural muscles.  Click on the Core Exercises and Posture Exercise-Neck videos and show them to him.  He should begin to perform these exercises daily.  In addition show him the Posture Stretch- Back video and buy him a fitness ball (click here to purchase).  This is a great tool for improving and protecting our posture.  If he can balance on the ball he should begin to lie backward over the ball 2 times a day.  He should have a spotter the first few times he tries to perform this stretch and make sure that he is on a well padded floor.  If he gets dizzy or it makes him feel sick he should stop.

This position lengthens the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the front of the spine and rib cage and forces spinal joints to fully extend.  Try to work up to a minute or two twice a day.  This is the single best postural stretch there is to avoid and reverse the forward bent posture that you’re dad is developing.

Another great postural stretch is to hang your head off the bed.  Lie on your back with most of your head hanging off the bed.  Do this for about a minute.  If this is too difficult just try to lie on your back without a pillow.  Feel the stretch in your neck and upper back.  Work up to having your head and most of your neck off the bed and hang that way for 5 minutes.  Again, if you have pain or any unusual symptoms, stop immediately and tell your doctor about them. 

See a Chiropractor
A good chiropractor can adjust his joints which are resisting extension (we call them joint fixations).  In your dad’s case this is probably most of them.  The chiropractic adjustments can jump start the process of mobilizing the spinal segments and thus help to improve his posture at a much quicker pace.  He will probably feel great after his chiropractic visits and move better for days. 

This combination of postural exercises, spinal stretches over a fitness ball, and chiropractic adjustments can do more for postural correction than any other modalities that I am aware of.

Good luck and let me know how he does.
In Health,
Dr Neil Levin DC, CN, CFT.