A few days ago, I uploaded the above video to YouTube. I think posture is an incredibly important thing to think about when living with a pulmonary disease, so I thought it deserved a blog post.
Think about it: When you have cystic fibrosis, or any other pulmonary disease, every single alveolus is precious (“alveolus” is medical speak for the tiny little air sac that, together with it’s millions of comrades, comprise the lung and allow for oxygen exchange–I like to think like a doctor sometimes).
As we get older, (happily, we all are now, aren’t we) there are two forces working against our lungs–gravity, and CF. We tend to think that we have little control over either, but we do! I write all the time about how we can positively influence our health by controlling what we can about CF. We can do our treatments. We can eat nutritiously. We can exercise religiously. We can get enough sleep. We can make sure we go to all of our clinic appointments….etc.
Today, my focus is on how to control gravity! Really.
Now mind you, I like gravity. It does many very positive things! It would be quite a chore to sit here and type without the assistance of gravity. But, gravity can wreak havoc on your body if you don’t learn to use it properly.
Our bodies were designed by a genius(es…who knows?). The bottom line is that our bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments all start out aligned to oppose gravity perfectly…until we screw it up. As I sit and type right now, my shoulders are rounded, my upper back is hunched over my computer, and my chin is jutted out over my chest. I know that’s sort of a scary image, but stick with me here.
Look around. Isn’t just about everyone assuming that position? It doesn’t just happen when typing or sitting at a computer all day. We gravitate unconsciously to this position when we play video games (watch your kids do this for a good shock), when we drive, when we play poker, when we slouch on the couch, you name it. It happens as we rush from one thing to the next. Isn’t your chin usually the first thing to enter the room? There are opportunities for this posture all day long! Over time–and not that much time– our default position consists of forward rounded shoulders, hunched over upper backs, and forward jutting chins. Compensating for all of this often comes a sway-back position of the lumbar spine. Suddenly, gravity is our arch enemy.
When you throw your body into this position, the muscles, ligaments and tendons of your back and neck HAVE to work overtime to simply keep you upright. These poor muscles become chronically overworked…and they let you know it. Slowly, the muscles of your upper back become stretched to a position that is not optimal, and they are thus weakened. At the same time, the muscles of the front of your shoulders and chest, low back and hip flexors (remember that sway back thing?) becomes tight and shorter than their optimal length, thus weakened. So, front and back muscles are weak, and working over time to keep you from falling on your face.
Ok, now throw in a chronic cough. Does your back and chest wall go into spasm just thinking about this? Now you understand REASON ONE for establishing good posture when you have CF.
Now for REASON TWO: Conjure up that image again, the one of the rounded shoulders, and slumped upper back. Do you think it is possible to take a full breath using all available lung tissue when in this position? Not a chance. You can use most of your upper lungs when you are collapsed that way.
It is estimated that poor posture can rob you of __% of lung tissue. Now, I don’t know about you, but I need every bit of my lung tissue with every breath I take. I can’t afford the improper effects of gravity1
So watch the video, and try to incorporate at least one or two of these exercises every day. They aren’t hard, and they don’t take much time. They will slowly work to strengthen and shorten those overstretched back muscles, and stretch and strengthen those tight chest and shoulder muscles. The result will be that you will be able to pull your shoulder blades back and down, thus opening your chest and allowing for full expansion of your lungs.
The next trick will be actually remembering to do this! I have some tricks for this, too. Watch for my “mindful breathing intervals” in a blog post coming to you soon!