It’s no surprise that your chiropractor might suspect you have back pain just by watching you move. But identify the way you sleep, or what you do for a living? Yes, it’s possible—and no, your chiropractor isn’t psychic. It’s just that your posture can reveal a lot more about your overall health and lifestyle than you might realize…
1. You’re addicted to your Phone
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 Adam Nachmias, DC, a chiropractor in New York City. 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 Karen Erickson, DC, FAAC, a chiropractor in New York City. “We used to see this kind of condition in people who’d been in car wrecks. Now we see it in 8-year-olds.” (That’s just one weird thing that happens when you text.)
The average head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, and according to a study published in the journal Surgical Technology International, it creates increasing pressure on the spine the further you tip it forward. Tilt it 15 degrees and it puts 27 pounds of pressure on your spine, researchers found; 30 degrees, 40 pounds of pressure; 60 degrees, 60 pounds of pressure. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of this hunching can lead to migraines, arthritis, and neck pain.
Habitual changes like training yourself to hold your phone at eye level while looking at it and working at a stand-up desk can help, says Erickson.
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. It’s designed to move and redistribute weight periodically,” says Robert Hayden, DC, PHD, FICC, a chiropractor in Georgia. When you sit for long periods, your psoas muscles, the ones that connect the torso and leg, get tight, and your hamstrings shorten. And that can show up as a tilted-forward-at-the-hips posture.
Doing lunges as well as yoga poses, like sphinx, updog, and bridge, will help elongate these muscles, says Erickson, which in turn will help straighten out your posture. (Try these 6 stretches if you sit all day.) And get moving. “Going to the gym for an hour doesn’t negate the health consequences of sitting all day,” she 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 have implications for digestion: When your upper back is curved, it can compress your organs, leading to reflux or GERD. (Hack your gut bacteria for easier-than-ever weight loss.) “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 the upper extremities.
The fix: a DIY body pillow. Nachmias suggests placing 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, and hugging another regular pillow, which will keep you from rolling onto your stomach.
5. You’re Out of Breath
Yet another side effect of that hunched posture? It can compress your organs, says Erickson, and cause your lungs to take in up to 30% less oxygen. 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 your Laptop around 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,” says Hayden.
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. It tells me how they feel about themselves,” says Hayden. “Your emotions can control your musculoketal structure.” (Instantly boost your self-image with these 5 tips.)
Being in the habit of looking down as you walk will also mess with your balance. “Walk like royalty,” says Erickson, who suggests keeping your head upright and gazing 50 yards in front of you. “It actually helps train your nervous system to use innate neurological balance, rather than relying on your eyes to balance.”