Herniated discs and posture may be related in cause and symptomology. Furthermore, good posture may be able to prevent herniated discs, while poor posture might facilitate their development. Posture is always a hot topic in the dorsalgia sector, with many specialists claiming it is the single most important factor in maintaining a healthy back. However, other types of doctors cite research statistics that show little correlation between most types of relatively normal posture and the development of any type of back or neck pain. As always, this discrepancy in opinion and findings causes massive controversy and therefore patients do not always know what to believe when it comes to posture and intervertebral disc problems.
This fact-filled essay explores the relationship between herniated discs and posture. We provide an objective view of the debate over posture and back pain in order to help patients to separate fact from conjecture when it comes to their spinal and overall health.
Herniated Discs and Posture Causation
It is well known that a painful herniated disc can contribute to poor posture. Patients might suffer pain and be forced to unconsciously adjust their posture in an effort to minimize their suffering. Patients may also suffer muscular weakness and deficiencies due to innervation concerns that change their posture for the worse. It is vital to remember that posture is a combined result of the application of muscles in the legs, hips, buttocks, back, abdomen, chest and neck all working together. Any condition that undermines these tissues neurologically, or through antalgia, can influence posture negatively.
No one would disagree that a pathological disc concern can worsen posture in almost any patient. However, can poor posture actually cause or contribute to the development of a herniated disc? This is where the controversy resides. Healthcare providers who specialize in postural work, such as sports medicine practitioners, physical therapists, Alexander Technique teachers and many chiropractors cite poor posture as a major cause of back and neck pain. They further expound that the changes in the skeletal and soft tissues enacted over time by bad posture can actually create dysfunction through accelerated and extreme degeneration.
Many other doctors report that good posture is an asset, but cite huge samples of patients who display poor posture, yet demonstrate no pain or unusual spinal pathologies. Furthermore, these same doctors often also cite large patient populations of people who have always maintained excellent posture, yet still have terrible back pain and/or spinal degeneration, including multiple herniated discs.
In our research, we have found that the human body is wonderfully adaptable in its ability to compensate for all manner of irregularities of structure and function. Poor posture is never a good thing, but we do not see much evidence that it directly causes herniated discs. It is feasible that continued stress on particular areas of the spine enacted by truly abysmal posture might have a contributory effect, but this does not change the simple fact that herniations are basically normal in adults and exist in virtually all classifiable samples of the population. Additionally, most herniations are not symptomatic, nor will they ever become so. This brings us around to the point that even if poor posture does have a potential contributory role in the incidence of herniations, so what?
Herniated Discs and Posture Symptoms
Poor posture can definitely cause pain. This is undisputable. Uneven, unbalanced, asymmetrical or otherwise undesirable postural habits tend to put tremendous stress on the soft tissue support structures of the body, also known as the postural muscles, ligaments and tendons. Continuous incorrect stress loading of these tissues can result in acute injury, as well as chronic repetitive strain conditions.
If the patient also demonstrates a symptomatic herniated disc, the negative results can be amplified. Correct posture will help to distribute spinal forces evenly, while incorrect posture might cause the disc to worsen in its symptom-generating potential. Remember that herniated discs can cause pain through neurological compression. Postural factors can cause the disc to shift in relation to the other spinal structures surrounding it. In some cases, this movement might exacerbate existing symptomatic nerve or spinal cord compression, making posture a possible contributor to the already present pain and neurological symptom set.
Likewise, having a symptomatic herniated disc can and often does destroy a patient’s postural habits. Many patients find themselves suffering from antalgic lean, which is usually demonstrated as a forward bend or a sideways bend in the middle torso. If this becomes a chronic concern, the postural ramifications on soft tissues have the potential to become problematic and painful unto themselves. Worse yet, postural issues tend to worsen with time, if not corrected, making for a cascade effect of pain and additional problems as more and more anatomical structures and regions are affected by the imbalance.