How Modern Life Leads to Chronic Pain

Many people today complain about a constant, low-level, fairly tolerable pain in the neck. No, we’re not talking about a hard-ass boss or an unruly neighbourhood kid. And it’s not only neck pain but back pain, too. Keep reading to find out why!

Our way of life has changed a great deal over the past 100 years (even more so in the last 30) but our bodies haven’t. And they are amazing machines. They are designed to adapt to demand (or the lack of demand) which is a considerable benefit to our survival.

Funny businessmanHowever, if we’re unaware of this natural ability or how to work with it, it can also be a great disadvantage.

Lifestyle Comparisons

Think about it: in a tropical or developing country, people are required to be extremely physical. They must walk (a lot) and have a variety of tasks they must complete throughout the day just to feed, clothe and provide shelter for themselves. Their environment and lack of “conveniences” demand it.

Compare this lifestyle with ours: the more technological advances we have, the less we need to use our bodies. Many of us choose to drive to the neighbourhood convenience store rather than walk the two blocks because we either lack the time due to packed schedules or we’re too tired from our day.

How Modern Life Leads to Chronic Pain

With all our blessings and technology, what do most of us end up doing for much of the day? Sitting; at the computer, in the car or bus, on the couch, etc. Our body is in a fixated position for most of the day where our core is lax, our lower back is caved in, upper back is concave and our shoulders rounded forward.

And it’s not just being sedentary that affects our posture, it’s any repetitive positions. Take for instance a new mom who naturally uses her strongest side to carry her children. In by doing so, though, she creates an imbalance in her body. Her dominant side becomes even stronger while she neglects her weaker side.

As nature designed, our bodies adapt to our environment. The muscles we use for our most repeated behaviours become shorter, tighten up and pull on the limbs, joints and spine. The muscles we don’t use compensate for this, becoming longer and looser. All of which affects our entire body from the spine and muscles to even our blood vessels and nerves! (Read the Mayo Clinic’s article on Negative Effects of Poor Posture.)

The persistent aches and pains, especially in the neck and back, that so many people complain about come from the imbalance in our bodies (poor posture) created by our lifestyles. We’re not using our bodies as nature intended and there are repercussions.   

If we continue to ignore our neck and back pain, injuries will occur – it’s just a matter of time. But it’s never too late to reverse the side-effects of poor posture!  

How to Improve Posture

When we’re active, we counterbalance our body’s adaptation to a sedentary lifestyle. Next time you’re working at the computer, after about every hour, get up to walk around a bit and stretch those tight muscles. (Check out a great neck and chest stretch in Think `Prehab’ Instead of Rehab)

Speaking of stretching, there are different kinds to be aware of: passive, active and ballistic. Each are useful for different reasons (this sounds like a future blog post!) but the one that’s most helpful in correcting poor posture is passive stretching, where you have someone knowledgeable, like a professional fitness trainer, to stretch your muscles for you.

When you’re stretching your own muscles to improve your posture, try not to use any other muscles. The 2 most important stretches to correct the neglect due to sitting for long periods are the chest stretch (click on the link above to our `Prehab’ article) and the hamstring stretch.

Hamstring stretch: Stand and bend forward, letting your arms droop towards the floor. Keep your back straight (this is important!), your core strong and stick your butt out a bit. You should feel the stretch in ONLY your hamstrings (the muscles in the backside of your thighs), not your back.

Finally, because all of our movements were meant to come from our core, strengthening our core muscles are a sure-fire way to improve posture. Here are 7 Core Exercises (For a Super Easy Way to Get Fit!).

We covered a lot here so to recap: our lifestyle affects our posture which can negatively affect our health and well-being by creating pain now and possible injuries later. You can reverse the effects of neglect by being more active, stretching and strengthening your core.

Do you have any favourite stretches or core exercises that improve posture and counterbalance the effects of repetitive positions?

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