ETK: This May Be The Reason You Can’t Sit Up Straight


Excessive Thoracic Kyphosis

The human vertebral column is made up 24 individual vertebra that align together to create three region of the spine known as the cervical, thoracic and lumbar. The human spine acts as a conduit for which a highway of nerves travel through to allow communication between the brain and all the parts  of the body including the muscles. Our spine affixes itself to the ribcage and together they act as a house for all of our vital organs With that being said, its value cannot be underestimated. The goal of this article is to make the anatomy of the spine understandable and to show why it may be the cause of shoulder, back and even foot pain.

 The density of each individual bony vertebrae that make up the spinal column suggest that we as humans are built to last. When we look at our skeletal structure, we are so perfectly put together, that we should have the ability to stand effortlessly for hours. The spine itself was created with distinct alternating “C” shaped curves to better allow us the ability to respond to the downward forces of the gravity and the opposing forces of earth. As our foot hits the ground, a fully functioning spine and its intervertebral discs allow us to absorb and spread the impacts of the earth as we walk, run, jump, etc.  As the connection between our upper and lower body, our spine also allows us movement capabilities forward, backward, side-to-side, and rotationally. It can easily be seen, how if we don’t take care of our spine first or if our spinal column becomes manipulated that dysfunction and pain can shortly follow.


There are four alternating “C” shaped regions of the spine. Each of them serve of different responsibility but each can dictate the shape and movement function of the others. Modern America has turned us into a culture that is falling forward. What I mean is that with as much time that we spend sitting behind the wheel of a car, behind a computer screen, or texting we are teaching our bodies that standing upright through our entire spine is not necessary. What happens is that the muscles that recognize this and try to make it easier for us. Much in the same way that  if with lift heavy weights with our arms, they will change shape. The muscles in our chest will being to shorten up to allow our arms to roll in and make it easier to grab a steering wheel or type on a computer. Those muscles between our shoulder blades will relax, and let our shoulders collapse forward, making us perfectly designed to be keyboard punching machines. To me, that is just awesome that the musculoskeletal system can do this. Think about it, your body can become what you do.


The problem becomes when we want to do more than be at the mercy of a computer desk or steering wheel. Thoracic kyphosis is a postural syndrome that occurs when our shoulders roll forward. What happens on a skeletal level is that the scapula that is the house that holds your arm in place, spreads away from your spine and tilts forward. As a result, this makes it difficult to lift our arms over our head with moving other parts of the body. Essentially, the roof of that house has collapsed on your arms and a barrier to overhead lifting has been created. This barrier contributes to a lack of movement in your shoulder, compensation, pain and an impingement of the muscles that make up your shoulder. Impingement is kind of a scary word, which normally has one knocking on the door to a physical therapist office or orthopedist.  You can gain a little heads up on an impending impingement by checking yourself with the following test.


Stand tall, and take your right hand and place it on your left shoulder. Raise your right elbow as high as you can. If you will feel pain, that could be an indication that something isn’t right. Repeat on the left.



The truth is likely, that the pain you feel is a result of what you do and don’t do. Although it may be unknowingly, the pain is your fault.

Sitting too much, will change how far your spine falls forward, and therefore change just how well you can move.

To better understand what I mean try this simple example. From a standing position, roll your shoulders as far forward as you can and try to lift your arms above your head. Now try doing the same, but stand up as tall as you can first. Obviously, there was a difference and it should have been much easier the second time when you stood up as tall as you could.

scap tilt

Enough with the gloom and doom, I’m here to help you avoid pain-pills and doctor’s visits. Here are a couple simple test’s you can do to see just if  your spine has fallen forward. First, just stand against a wall, lining up your heels, tailbone, shoulder blades and head against the wall. If you can’t get your head back without moving your feet forward or if you can slide your hand between the space between your lower back and the wall, then you have thoracic kyphosis. A lot of people will report back that feel like they are “falling forward.” Just image what this means. Your body is having to work really hard everytime you stand up, just so you don’t end up face first on the ground. That cant be good.

Another simple thing to do is have someone take a picture of you from the side. Your cheekbone, should be right above your collar bone.

Man with impaired posture position defect scoliosis and ideal be

So, it should be obvious that something needs to be done. Essentially we need to exercise in opposition to how we see your body is acting. When I look that the example above, I see a body “falling forward,” so my plan begins and ends with the idea that I need to help you raise up. This could mean we start with releasing the muscles of the pecs or it could mean that we release the muscles that bend the hip backward. All that is subject to what you do and what your most significant deviations from good postural alignment are.


Categories: assessment, helpful ideas

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