slouching bad back

Spine Health: Can bad posture injure your spine?

How have habitual hunching and slouching increased your chances of a herniated disc?


As it turns out, we have learned good health lessons from some of the oldest aphorisms. Science has confirmed that eating an apple a day really does have some excellent health benefits. Who can argue that an ounce of prevention is WAY better than a pound of cure? And who would have guessed that laughing is the best medicine – for your cardiovascular system!


Are you surprised that the warnings you got from your parents about hunching over your work and slouching in a chair turn out to have real consequences? Hunching, slouching – overall poor posture – can actually speed along degenerative disc disease.


Eventually, almost everyone develops a little chronic and persistent pain somewhere along the spine. Maybe it’ll be in the neck or between the lower portion of your ribs and your hips. If the pain isn’t related to an actual injury, then it’s probably due to poor posture.


Poor posture places extra pressure on different parts of the spine. The problem becomes acute when the pressure is constant. Slouching flattens out the cervical and lumbar curves of the spine and adds tension (muscle tightness) that results in a backache. Hunching adds more pressure to the upper levels of the spine, especially in the cervical (neck) region. Add repetitive activities like work or school when you may sit at a computer for hours at a time and – bam – you have a chronic situation.


By the time you reach your 30s or 40s, it is possible that you have developed a herniated disc. And that’s when you’ll want to be examined by a qualified physician.


My work as a spinal neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sini Medical Center in Los Angeles and treating patients with chronic back problems at own practice in Beverly Hills has given me some insight into how people feel about their posture. In simple terms, they don’t think about their posture until after I show them the films from their MRI examination.


The most problematic circumstance of habitual poor posture is aging. With aging comes natural stiffness that develops throughout the body. Little by little, cartilage, bone and connecting tissues lose their flexibility and strength. The spine is a complex system of nothing but lots of cartilage, bones, and connecting tissues. If there are going to be a problem, it’ll show up here.


A herniated disc is triggered when the stiffness leads to deterioration of the fibrous outer shell of the disc. An injury may cause a rupture in the shell and allow the soft, compressible material that is inside to leak out. The resulting rupture, or herniation, will poke into a nearby nerve and irritate it, resulting in localized ache or pain.


A herniated disc is a permanent condition. It doesn’t “get better” over time. Over-the-counter pain medication may mask a problem that may grow worse with time.


Surgery is often the end of the road for bad posture. By that time, my patients have learned their lesson. Not only have they stopped their constant hunching and slouching, but they are also taking care of other wellness issues that can help them heal and do better over time. I often enroll my patients into a program that includes exercise and improved nutrition that not only helps their overall health condition but also propels their awareness about their bodies. They are more conscious of posture and become more proactive about the health of their whole body.


It might be a little surprising that so many old sayings – especially the ones dealing with health – have a shred of truth in them. I sometimes wonder if some ancient apothecary noticed differences and compared people who did certain things and those who didn’t. We have real medical science to help guide us now. The big lesson, of course, is that we can be greater than better when we hold ourselves responsible for our wellness habits.


After all, movement is life.


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