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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mitteness

Anxious? Your spine and posture may be involved. Here's what the research says.

Most of us can accurately guess someone's mood simply by looking at their posture. Are they upright and extended? They're probably happy, engaged or maybe excited. Are they slumped forward, head hanging heavy? They could be sad, depressed or disengaged. More and more research is showing that our spinal posture, mental health and mood are related.

The study titled, Relation between Increasing Spinal Curve and Anxiety, was published in 2011 in Social and Behavioral Sciences. Here are some of my favorite exerpts:

"Anxiety is a generalized mood condition that can often occur without an identifiable triggering stimulus. As such, it is distinguished from fear, which is an emotional response to a perceived threat. Physical effects of anxiety may include heart palpitation, muscle weakness and tension, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach aches or headache. The body prepares to deal with a threat: blood pressure and heart rate are increased, sweating is increased, blood flow to the major muscle groups is increased, and immune and digestive system functions are inhibited (the fight or fight response).

External signs of anxiety may include pale skin, sweating, trembling, and papillary dilation. Someone who has anxiety might also experience it as a sense of dread or panic. Although panic attacks are not experienced by every person who has anxiety, they are a common symptom. Panic attacks usually come without warning, and although the fear is generally irrational, the perception of danger is very real. A person experiencing a panic attack will often feel as if he or she is about to die or pass out. Anxiety does not only consist of physical effects; there are many emotional ones as well. They include "feelings of apprehension or dread, trouble concentrating, feeling tense or jumpy, anticipating the worst, irritability, restlessness, watching (and waiting) for signs (and occurrences) of danger, and, feeling like your mind's gone blank."

This research looked at the participants curve in their mid back known as a kyphotic curve. All humans should have a kyphotic curve of some sort. An increase or decrease from normal may be a sign of dysfunction. It can be effected by our every day movements and, in turn, can effect the function of the body as mentioned next.

"Motor deficiency can be considered as a main factor in the body muscles undermining. Following the mistake patterns of the body motilities, would have a negative effect on the performance of individuals’ organs. For example, excessive working of hands in front of the body and not strengthening the relevant muscles are the main factors in dorsal curve abnormalities. This complication in the body gradually causes the hands to incline to forward and leads to the abnormal curvature in the back of human. Extensor spinal muscle stretched in the kyphosis but flexor spinal muscle shorted. It has been suggested that fatigue and pain may lead to decreased levels of physical activity in many patients. The resulting de-conditioned state may itself contribute to muscle abnormalities. Associated symptoms such as disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, or irritable bowel also may have a negative impact on muscle function and level of daily activities. Occasionally displacement of spinal vertebral caused to kyphosis. The thoracic kyphosis or spinal curve is the primary curve of the vertebral column and is consisted of 12 vertebrae.

The thoracic kyphosis angle increases with age and the increase is greater in females than males. Feldenkrais at 1949 has been suggestion that psychosocial factors such as; depression, insecurity and anxiety may lead to an increased kyphosis. In recent years, many researchers have investigated the various factors that can influence body posture: mood, depression, anxiety, head and neck positions. Almost in these studies subjects were patients. But in our study subjects are healthy people. According this base the aim of present research was investigating relation between anxiety and kyphosis angle."

"The statistical findings in the current research indicate that there is a significant, positive correlation between anxiety and kyphosis. As the anxiety in a common sense is considered as a physical, behavioral and mental response to the mental stress, so the thoughts which

originated in inverting the body sensations, are resulted from misunderstanding of these sensations. The origin of these thoughts is that people imagine that they have a serious problem with their body. These disastrous thoughts play an important role in increasing anxiety and in result incline the body signs.

Anxieties and moods will affect individuals’ muscular movements and also their body posture. The prominent signs in those who are suffering from moderate anxiety are forward shoulder, diminished physical activity, sleepy and seclusion. As researches indicate, the lack of complete reflection resulted in spinal defects, often occur during rapid growth (maturity) and when there are some kinds of mental weakness and feeling uncertainty. So, these characteristics could increase the dorsal arch area (kyphosis). According to the studies being done in the present research, these results are obtained; there is a significant correlation between kyphosis deformity and anxiety, and due to the positive effects of physical activity and exercises on mental health, and also the interaction between the mental and physical aspect of our body and their mutual influences on each other, and finally with use of the previous research findings, it could be mentioned that the sport exercise and physical activities specially corrective training might be considered to be as a suitable scientific style to prevent and treating physical weakness and some upper limbs deformity."

So what can we do about this? There are a few important areas to consider and the first is development. If you are a parent, ensure your baby gets as much tummy time as possible to properly develop the spine and the muscles surrounding it. Building Your Baby is one of my favorite resources! If you are a parent of an older child, check his or her posture. Are they leaning forward a lot? If they are spending a lot of time on electronics, the answer is probably yes. You can either encourage good posture while on electronics, place the electronics higher or simply get them moving more throughout the day. Activities that require extension of the body and arms are especially important. These include climbing (think monkey bars or play structures), catching a ball at different levels, jumping, cartwheels, dancing and more. Any fun and playful movement that requires the use of the arms and legs will help to counteract the flexed forward position.

As an adult, the same principles apply. Make an effort to get your arms above your head every day and take breaks from an extended amount of time in the seated or leaning forward position (that happens at a standing desk, too!). My favorite ways to encourage extension throughout my day are jumping jacks, kettlebell workouts, hanging from a bar, getting chiropractic adjustments regularly, neck and shoulder mobility (see video below) and dancing.

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