I have never given much thought to my posture. I do remember, however, walking around the house with a book on my head during childhood. I always considered this to be a teaching technique, not a corrective action. Now I’m not so sure.
I’ve recently been plagued with acute muscle pain from two different diagnoses. The first one is my old friend, myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). This one’s been with me for over 40 years. I’ve recently developed occipital neuralgia. Both disorders are muscular in nature and are commonly found in fibromyalgia patients. Treatment consists of muscle relaxants (none of which I’m able to tolerate), as well as physical therapy (which has been helpful for both issues).
Each physical therapist I’ve seen has attributed my problems at least partly to poor posture. My specific issue is that I carry my head in front of my shoulders rather than on top of them. Having been given a series of exercises to loosen the muscles tightened from holding my head in an unnatural position, I rushed home and picked up a book. Sure enough, soon after placing it firmly on top of my head it slid to the floor. In childhood, I became quite skilled at carrying that encyclopedia volume on my head. So, what happened since then to cause my current dilemma?
At the beginning of my career, I worked as a secretary. At that time typewriters were the standard office equipment. To avoid fiddling with erasers or correction fluid, I was always on the lookout for faster and easier ways to do my job, so when word processors became available, I became a big fan. I became an early adopter before the term was even invented. I moved eagerly into the technical future, but my body suffered as a result.
In those years before the discovery of ergonomics, I would sit hunched over my equipment. After decades of eight-hour days spent in this position, poor posture became normal for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice. My muscles, on the other hand, noticed every day and tried to warn me with episodes of MPS. Initially, these episodes occurred only once or twice a year, until they gradually increased to at least monthly. Early on, my doctors explained them away as “just” muscle spasms. They had no suggestions as to cause or cure. I am now trying to correct what nearly half a century of self-abuse has done to my body.
Of course, fibromyalgia played a hefty role as well. Thousands of other people have had similar career paths that followed the development of technology in the same unhealthy hunched-over position for an equal number of years. The difference is that their normal muscles recovered each night from being unnaturally stretched. Because I got very little REM sleep, my muscles had less time to recover. My stiff, ropy muscles weren’t flexible enough to completely return to normal, thereby affecting my posture bit by bit, day by day.
My physical therapists tell me that with time and dedication, the exercises I do every day will at least partially restore my posture and reduce my discomfort. Because pain is such a powerful motivator, I’ll happily do a 10-minute exercise routine twice a day. In between, I’ll be answering the doorbell with a book on my head.
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