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Fact or fiction? We ran some common posture myths by Chicago-based chiropractic physician Dr. Richard Arrandt. Here's the skinny on everything from lower back pain to TMJ:
Myth: Slouching only makes me look bad -- it can't actually cause long-term damage.
Reality: This is pure fiction. The effects of bad posture are many, and can actually be really serious. "When people slouch, their heads come forward. Slouching also forces the shoulders to come forward. This leads to jaw pains and headaches, and to shoulder and back pains," says Arrandt. "Additionally, if the mechanics of your spine are not aligning properly, it can affect your rib cage, which can damage your heart and lungs, and lead to gastrointestinal issues."
Myth: Crossing my legs will give me varicose veins.
Reality: This is not entirely true, but crossing your legs does have some negative consequences. "Crossing the legs leads to lower pack pain," says Arrandt. "Crossing one leg over the other leads to increased pressure, and if your vein systems are closer to the surface, they will certainly show up more prominently. Spider veins are more common in women than in men because of crossing the legs."
Myth: Clenching my jaw will give me TMJ.
Reality: Fact! You already know that a clenched jaw gives away your anxieties. But it can actually lead to much more serious problems as well. Arrandt says, "Clenched jaws and grinding teeth increases the tensions in the temporomandibular joint (the TMJ or jaw joint) and creates tension. This wears the joint and can also lead to headaches, neck pain, and upper back pain."
Myth: There is nothing I can do to mitigate the effects of bad posture.
Reality: This is absolutely untrue. Arrandt says, "Slouching is natural if you are not ergonomically correct, but there are exercises that you can do to counter the effects of slouching." He recommends weight workouts and stretches that focus on the neck, shoulders, and back.
Myth: Bad posture is genetic -- I can't change the way I slouch, especially after all this time.
Reality: Bad posture can be genetic, but that doesn't mean it's completely out of your hands. Tightening and strengthening your core -- that is, the center of your body, including the deep abdominal muscles and the muscles closest to the spine -- can help improve your posture, making it easier for you to sit (and stand) up straight. A good Pilates class will teach you the exercises you need to develop this core strength.
Myth: Bad posture leads to scoliosis.
Reality: False. According to Arrandt, most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning they stem from an unknown cause, but there is no known link between posture and scoliosis. However, scoliosis only includes side-to-side curves. There are also curves in the front-to-back plane of the spine, and these can be increased or decreased as a result of hunching and slumping, so sit up straight!
Myth: Working in front of a computer all day is ruining my posture.
Reality: Yes, this is true. Sitting in front of a computer all day can force you to jut your neck forward and hunch your shoulders. "If you're not ergonomically correct, you will wind up with back and neck pain," says Arrandt. To counter these effects, push for ergonomically designed desk chairs at work. If you spend a lot of time on the phone at work, ask for a headset, so your neck muscles will not contract unevenly. And finally, take breaks to walk around the office and stretch.