In our busy daily lives, we perform many activities being unaware of what impact our bodies are undergoing; until it is quite late. For example, research which monitored the impact of occupational activities on the body has identified that prolonged standing which is quite common in professions such as teachers, dentists etc. is manifested in the form of low back pain often quite late in life. Whereas, prolonged sitting required in jobs involving working on the computers leads to tilting and deforming the muscles around the pelvis. Thus, all the activities which we perform in our daily lives have the potential to distort the optimal biological functioning of the body due to the forces to which they subject our bodies to. One of the ways the functioning of our bodies is altered, is the effects of our occupational, recreational, and other habits have on our posture.
Posture is the alignment of the parts of the body, in an ideal posture, there is an expenditure of the least amount of energy to complete our daily activities. Deviation from the optimal posture can lead to serious complications. It is, therefore, necessary to identify a postural problem, and as it is with most diseases early identification of postural problems will lead to the minimum amount of discomfort.
Some of the early signals of postural problems have been discussed below, these help the readers to identify a postural imbalance before serious consequences.
- Pain: This is a common finding, a feature identifying pain arising from postural problems is the pattern in which the pain occurs. Pain will mostly arise when certain activities are performed, after exertion or at the end of the day. It is commonly seen that pain is relieved if a person takes rest, and certain movements are associated with an increase or decrease of pain.
- Problems when walking: Certain postural problems affect the way in which we walk. A person with some postural problems finds it difficult to walk with ease, there may be a limp, soreness and discomfort of the feet, and pains in and around the joints of the legs when the person walks.
- Changes in the way a person looks: It is seen that often the person is himself/herself not able to sense the change in which his/her body looks. But, relatives, friends or colleagues often advise that there is a change in appearance, which can be drooping of shoulders, tilting, or bending of the head, arching of the back. This is often due to a slow development of decrease in muscle strength which is often not sensed by the individual who has a postural problem. Changes with problems of the low back- Pregnancy, obesity, and weak muscles cause changes in the way a person looks. The hip and pelvis appear to slouch forward and there is an increased hollow in the back. Sometimes the person looks as if the entire upper body has shifted backwards on the hips.
- Changes in the neck and upper back problems: The problems of the low back can affect the neck and upper back. As described above with the shifting of the upper body back, it is often noted that the neck is held bent forwards and tilted down. Other times there is a loss of the roundedness of the upper back and decreased hollow of the lower back.
- Changes in the skin: A person who has developed postural problems may experience dryness of the skin, itching, the skin peels off, there is a discolouration of the skin noticed in the hands, forearms, feet, and legs. This is mainly due to the compression of the nerves and blood vessels which supply the skin in these areas. The cause for this is the abnormal pressure on the nerves due to the poor posture.
- Inability to do some activities: There is often weakness which prevents the person from doing activities. Sometimes when the nerves supplying the muscles are compressed, one limb may look weak and have a difference in its circumference compared to the other non-affected limb. Simple actions such as looking up and down or reaching to pick up something appear to be very demanding due to discomfort and an increase in the effort, as the muscles around the affected joints become tight and restrict movement.
- Changes of touch and temperature: The person may not be able to sense normal touch and feel the heat, cold on the limbs as the nerves supplying the skin become compressed. Often when these problems are not attended so there can be ignored injuries on the legs and hands. Occasionally, the legs or hands may feel cold or hot as compared to the other parts of the body.
- Headaches and falls: Postural problems have been correlated with headaches, the headaches with such problems are called tension headaches. These are very uncomfortable and are related to physical and psychological stress in the presence of a postural problem. Postural deviations are also linked to falls. This is because the effect which impaired posture has on the balance. It is one of the main reasons for falls and injuries in the elderly.
It is not necessary that a person who has a postural problem will show all the above-presented signs, but some if not all the signs can be confirmed in an individual with postural problems. It is also very necessary to know that these problems may be a part of some other physical problems, and there may be deeper issues which only trained medical professionals can identify. All possible precaution must be taken for purposes of self-diagnosis and clinical opinion must be taken to confirm that there is a postural or another systemic disease responsible for the symptoms.
What can a Physiotherapist do?
- The assessment of posture is one of the quickest and effective examinations in the hands of a skilled physiotherapist. A postural exam can save your money, as it can rule out posture related problems in a cheaper way than more expensive methods such as MRI.
- A physiotherapist can provide quick screening of the neurological system, which can help to screen weak muscles, affected areas of the skin and identify the neurological structures at risk and help to stop the aggravation of the problem.
- Physiotherapy is often used as a standalone treatment in problems related to posture and is often a convenient tool for patients and orthopaedic doctors for treatment of postural problems.
- Physiotherapists can provide treatment for these types of problems to suit your specific needs. This may be done by modification of exercises, by providing treatments to relieve pain, by providing advice on rest and activity to help with the problem and lifestyle change to prevent recurrence of postural problems.