Staying Level Headed

When we talk about posture it is generally in terms of front to back discrepancies in the balance but side to side is just as important. A side to side postural imbalance is called Scoliosis. I’m not going to talk about structural scoliosis, where the bones of the spine have developed in such a way that the spine cannot stand vertically. Today I will be discussing functional imbalances that are more common than we think in the general population.

Our side to side movements and balance come solely from our spine and the muscles that run up and down it as well as out from it. An imbalance in these muscles or an outside influence can lead to a curve towards one side or another and this puts a lot of uneven pressure through the joints of the spine.

First of all, those squishy intervertebral discs that we have talked about so many times before will be pushed to the outer edge of this new curve and create uneven pressure on the outer tissue of the disc itself. If prolonged, this pressure will eventually weaken these tissues and increase the likelihood of the intervertebral discs herniating.

The pressure in the joints of the spine also increases the wear and tear they experience which leads to degeneration of the joints and the development of arthritis. The most noticeable and immediate symptom of this imbalance is sore and spasmed muscles up and down the spine. Really muscle spasms and functional scoliosis are a chicken/egg debate that is different for each individual but they definitely go hand-in-hand.

Functional scoliosis can be influenced and/or caused by multiple different factors. The main culprits are bags that are carried on one side like purses, messenger bags, or briefcases. This added weight unbalanced us and puts an outside pressure across the spine. Backpacks on the other hand, when worn on both shoulders balance their weight evenly across the shoulders and low back so that the pressure is vertical and not horizontal. If the backpack is not packed evenly then this protection disappears, of course. This is why it is important to distribute the weight in your pack evenly on both sides.

Our shoes can even be the problem that leads to functional scoliosis. If they wear down unevenly then it’s the same as walking along an uneven surface. This can happen if our gait is off for any reason.

If you think that you have a functional scoliosis take a look in the mirror and really examine how level your body is at all points. Take a good look at your ears, shoulders, and hips as these are generally good indicators of balance horizontally. At our shoulders there is always a little discrepancy because the muscles of our dominant arm will be mildly bigger than the non-dominant one just from frequent use. In fact, we all have a very small mild scoliosis in our upper back which curves towards our dominant arm for this reason. That scoliosis is harmless as the body has adapted to it since childhood and found a balance around it.

So what can we do about it? Really the only help that we can get fixing a functional scoliosis is through rehabilitation and chiropractic care. A chiropractor or physiotherapist can determine if a functional scoliosis is appropriate or the result of an imbalance which should be removed. Through training and manipulation an inappropriate scoliosis and its root cause(s) can be alleviated and resolved. The only thing that we can do at home by ourselves is to make sure that when we work out we stretch and exercises both sides of our body evenly.

So take a good look at the mirror now and then and honestly answer this question, “How level headed am I?”

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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