The Incoming Posture Crisis
A Familiar Posture | The Prince of Swords by sculptor Nicole… | Flickr
It is a theme of this site that us humans now live lives that are out of kilter with our ancestors. Because we have spent so much of our evolutionary history as mainly hunter gatherers and so little of that time doing agricultural or industrial work, our bodies suffer for it. When you combine this with the fact we live much longer and live much more comfortable and more sedentary lives also, posture and general deterioration of our biomechanics as we age creates a major problem in many people's lives.
It started with the agricultural revolution. You can still see the negative effects of this today, and I witnessed it in Korea when I lived there. Korea has rapidly developed over the last few decades into an economic powerhouse, but some older people still bear the scars of their agricultural existence. Rice farming was back breaking work; women in particular would be bent over all day harvesting the paddy fields. In some more rural areas of Korea you can see the results of this in some of the old women. Some are actually bent over at almost a 90 degree angle when they walk. It is really quite shocking.
Around Nha Trang, rice fields | Around Nha Trang, rice field… | Flickr
Then came the industrial and technological revolutions where people sat in an office or worked in a factory all day, often stressed and bored. These positions, along with the long stretches of inactivity that came with it, encouraged rounded shoulders, lordosis in the lower back, and a forward head posture. This is the classic modern-day postural problem, present in perhaps 90+% of people to varying degrees.
The average office worker, however, at least had a childhood of activity. I'm 40 now, and have been active my whole life, and I have been fortunate to have an active profession for most of my adulthood. Many of my friends and acquaintances have not been so fortunate in this regard, but until perhaps their late 20s, it was difficult to see many ill effects. Post 30s, though, and even my active friends started to deteriorate, with postural issues, injury, and chronic pain.
I'm less concerned with my generation compared to the generations in their early-20s and younger, however. The age of the computer and smartphone have encouraged much less activity at younger ages. I see glaring postural problems in teenagers, both girls and boys, which I never remember seeing 10 years ago. This is a timebomb waiting to go off because even our work lives are becoming more sedentary. Manual jobs are disappearing and technology is taking over, and then we have those damn smartphones and tablets, which appear to be taking the place of going out and socialising directly through physical play. Sometimes I even see 3 or 4 year old's bent-over staring into these blasted devices.
Girls and Boys
The postural issues I am starting to notice are slightly different in boys and girls. The most glaring problem in girls seems to start in their early teenage years with significantly interiorly rotated shoulders, which cause their scapulars to wing.
In boys, I am noticing the classic modern day problem at earlier ages. In late teens and early-twenties young men, there is a very noticeable pattern of rounded shoulders and a pronounced lordosis in the lower back.
It seems to me that the postural problems in boys begin to show in early adulthood, and in girls a bit earlier, in their early to mid teens.
The reason for the problem in boys and girls is something that I can only speculate on. I feel fairly sure that a combination of smartphones, computer games, and weight training are the cause of many of the postural abnormalities in young men. For girls the reason is not so clear, however, if I had to guess I think the combination of smartphone use, the formation of breasts, a lack of confidence, and stress and anxiety may be the prime culprits.
I should explain further the effect of stress and anxiety on posture and the relationship that these may have with teenage girls.
In all anglosphere countries, the last decade has seen a worrying rise in stress and anxiety in teenage girls and boys, however the effect is particularly pronounced in girls. The use of social media seems to be at least partly to blame for this. Social media tends to have a greater effect on girls' happiness because of how girls compare themselves to others and the way girls tend to bully by reputation destruction more than boys do - who just tend to physical violence more often than not. For a more comprehensive account of why this is occurring, check out the video below.
But why would such stress and anxiety affect posture? Well, picture the way a confident person walks down the street; shoulders back, chest out. From an evolutionary perspective this shows a high status individual, confident either that they won't be attacked or that they can easily fend-off attack. All vital organs are exposed, open and vulnerable. You have to be confident, bold, and strong to feel comfortable doing this.
Now picture someone who is stressed and lacks confidence, what do they do when they walk around? Shoulders hunched and pulled inwards, and the reason is to protect vital organs from attack. This is instinctual, especially as it only offers minimal protection for us bipedal humans. Hunching-over for quadrupeds does significantly help them protect vulnerable areas, however, and our behaviour is probably and evolutionary relic from our ancestors as a reaction to threat.
Rounded, internally rotated shoulders imitates this threat position. If you have read my previous post on how posture deteriorates with age, you'll have been introduced to the idea of positive feedback loops. In this case, stress, anxiety, and insecurity encourages the threat position. Then throw-in newly developed breasts and the urge to cover it up, and the classic girls postural issue starts to form. Once this starts to form, the position may psychologically create even less confidence and stress, and around and around the loop goes.
Much like happiness makes you smile, psychologists have discovered that smiling makes you happy. The same could very well be true for bad posture. Stress creates bad posture and bad posture creates stress.
The psychological problems our children are increasingly suffering in our societies could very well show in the way they hold themselves and move. With this in mind then, does it make sense to treat their physical state as well as their mental state? It is just a thought, but it seems to me that a better physiological state may help improve their psychological state and vice-versa.
If young people are experiencing stress and anxiety issues, perhaps it is worth addressing them on a physical level by training to improve their movement and posture, alongside taking them to a counselor to improve their mental state. A combination of both is likely to have the best results, in my opinion.
What do you think?
With regards to specific and deteriorating postural problems in younger people compared to the past (not to mention movement issues and physical robustness), there is no study that I am aware of that has addressed it. Any such study would be fiendishly difficult to run and get reliable results, even if someone desired to do one. With this in mind then, the patterns I think I am seeing are going be based on anecdote, entirely on my personal observations. But what do you think? Have a look around and see if you notice what I am seeing. Are young people more or less physically robust than previous generations, or no different? Are you seeing some of the postural problems I am seeing, or not?
I have been involved in sport and fitness all my life, and my observations - alongside many of my friends who have kept the same interest or work in the industry - are that young people these days are noticeably less physically robust. Is this because they are also psychologically less robust? Are the two related? Does one problem aggravate the other? I think it does, but even if it doesn't, being physically less robust and having bad posture is a problem that I think will plague young people now and in later life. I think we best go about trying to fix it, as our younger generation is in danger of aging very poorly indeed.
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