I became interested in medicine in 1975 because none of my symptoms were evident on blood tests or x-rays, and my doctor couldn’t explain them, and none of the previously prescribed medications were relieving the symptoms.
I have been studying those problems for time to time for more than 30 years now, and have been able to determine the causes.
Most of those symptoms were due to poor posture, so in the process of determining that, I also had to also determine the cause of spinal curvature.
What is poor posture
Poor posture involves forward curvature of the upper spine, which is medically referred to as kyphosis, and in general terms is called slouching, and in extreme cases it is described as the hunchback posture. Sideways curvature of the spine is called scoliosis, and the two features usually occur together in which case it is called kyphoscoliosis.
The Cause of Poor posture in the general medical literature prior to 1975
A typical description of the cause of poor posture can be seen in the 6th edition of “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine”, from 1970. It discusses the problem of kyphoscoliosis, and reports that in 80% of cases the cause is unknown, and that in the remaining 20% of cases the main causes are polio or tuberculosis of the spine.
The basic reason for the 20% being known is because there is some evidence in blood tests or x-rays, of some sort of previous infection, and some obvious injury or damage to the spinal bones.
In the remaining 80% of cases the existence of spinal curvature is visibly obvious, but there isn’t any evidence of cause in blood tests or x-rays, so it is said that the cause is unknown, with the additional remark that the cause is “controversial“.
There are many reasons for the controversy, but it basically relates to the uncertainty of cause where there have been many suggestions. For example it has been argued that it is simply due to laziness where the person just slumps in their chair because they can’t be bothered sitting up straight. In fact poor posture is often accompanied by the prejudicial word “slouching”, and the person is often described in an insulting and offensive manner as a “slouch”. The problem has also been attributed to poor personality, a weakness of character, timidity, shyness, a lack of confidence, and a lack of pride and self-respect, and to bad habits, or psychological factors such as sadness, depression, and anxiety or stress. Similarly, the bio-mechanical consequences of poor posture, such as neck aches, back pain, and breathlessness have been attributed to the same psychological factors.
The Real Causes of Poor posture according to The Posture Theory
When I read about those ideas I knew that they were wrong for many reasons. For example, when I was a teenager all students were encouraged to play sport, which I did almost every day of the week, and it was inactive people who spent all day in lounge chairs who were regarded as lazy. In other words I was the exact opposite of lazy,
I therefore looked for a more realistic way of explaining how I developed a spinal curvature, and was able to determine that there were many causes, but I will describe a few below.
Poor Nutrition and Infectious Illness during infancy
When I was looking for the cause of spinal curvature I found some old books which referred to the condition called Rickets. It has previously been much more common than in modern times, and is due to vitamin D deficiency, particularly during infancy, and it involves a weakening of the bones which cause the spine to collapse under the weight of the child. If that problem is not treated early, the changes will persist and become a permanent feature of the adult skeleton.
I also found that other nutritional deficiencies could affect the strength of bones, such as the lack of calcium in the diet.
When I was considering the cause of my own spinal curvature I recalled that I had hepatitis for several months as a 6 year old. I also found a photo of myself at age 3 which shows that I had an excellent physique, and a straight spine, and then another photo when I was 7 years old which shows that I was thin and slouched, so I drew the conclusion that the hepatitis was probably accompanied by several weeks or months of nausea and vomiting, and poor appetite during which time the lack of nutrition would have caused my spinal bones to
become weak and curve forwards under the weight of my body.
Nothing was done to correct that problem, as indicated with similar features in my physique at age 12 when I was still very thin and stooped, and that continued to be the case in adulthood.
During the early years I was always feeling relaxed and comfortable in that position, and I can recall that on some occasions when I tried to sit up straight I would feel uncomfortable, so I would relax again, and that would have been due to the fact that I was trying to use muscle to force back curved bones. Consequently I persisted with that posture because it felt natural.
However, as the years went by I gradually started to get various aches and pains but didn’t know why.
In fact, I was not aware of having a poor posture, because I always looked at myself front on in the mirror, and never noticed the stooped feature, until after I wrote The Posture Theory in 1980, and decided to look at myself in the mirror from the side view. It was then obvious that I had a forward curvature in my upper spine and that it was the cause of most of my health problems.
Sideways curvature of the spine
While I was trying to determine the cause of various symptoms I noticed that one of my shoulders was much lower than the other, and eventually concluded that it was due to sideways curvature of my spine. I also noticed that my left collarbone was angled upwards, and my right collarbone was horizontal, and that my sternum or breastbone was leaning to the right, instead of being vertical, and that my left ribs were splayed apart compared to my right ribs which were lower and crowded together. Those facts would explain why many of my symptoms were more commonly experienced on one side.
I was also able to determine from detailed observations, that when I leaned forward to write, that my spine, shoulders, and sternum were rotating, and that action was responsible for some of the symptoms. In particular my sternum was digging and twisting into the junction between my esophagus and stomach.
It was probably more than a decade later that I noticed that people like the Pavarotti, the opera singer, had a sternum or breastbone which projected forwards, and gave them a very large barrel shaped chest. By contrast my sternum was more or less vertical, even slightly backwards in it’s angle, which gave me a much shallower chest than normal.
I then concluded that a deep chest, when viewed from the side, would have the shape of a triangle with the spine being upright, the sternum angled forward, and a horizontal line across the abdomen at the base. Consequently the triangular shape of the ribs would keep the spine straight when the person leaned forward.
However, when viewed from the side, my sternum was parallel to my spine, so that when I leaned forward, the upper part of the sternum would go forward, and the lower part would go backwards, and therefore compress my lungs and the lower tip would dig into my abdomen, to eventually cause general inflammation and soreness in that area.
Constantly sitting in the same position
While I was considering the cause of poor posture I recalled that I had measles when I was five years old, and that it infected my left eye, and required two eye operations, after which I was prescribed glasses to assist my reading.
I also came to the conclusion, that if the spine is slightly curved during infancy, that future activities which involve long periods of time, or even decades of leaning forward, will tend to increase the curvature. For example if the child spends many years sitting at a desk at school, where they have poor eyesight, and have to lean forward to see what they read.
I can also recall that I often had to walk for a half an hour or more each day, to and from school, while carrying a kit bag or satchel full of heavy books etc., and I concluded that the long term affect would be a subtle and gradual increase in the sideways curvature of my spine each year. That problem would also be more likely to occur in smaller or lighter children, and in those who had poor nutrition as well, because those factors would make the skeletal bones weaker, and more likely to bend.
In order to explain how that happened I quoted some words from the hunchback poet Alexander Pope who wrote . . .
“Just as the twig is bent the trees inclined”.
I then made a comparison between the human trunk, and the trunk of a tree, which are both pliable when young, but harden as they reach maturity, and become unbendable. I also described how some trees when grown naturally will develop strong and straight trunks, and those which are bent and roped to a stake in the ground by a farmer, will grow in that position until maturity, and remain in that shape even after the rope is removed.
I then drew a diagram to illustrate that effect.
Note that people who argued that poor posture in humans was due to psychological causes, would not have any credibility if they said the same thing about a tree.
Logic and experience can solve the problems which science can’t
When I was young I learnt to read and write, and do mathematics like most people. I later learnt the principles of the scientific method. However, I also participated in classroom discussions each Friday afternoon, for 1 or 2 years, where I gained a confidence in argument.
My confidence was based on arguments against opinions which could not be confirmed, but I also recognised the shortcomings of the scientific method.
Science requires that everything be proven, or declared unknown, as if it is all as simple as black and white, which is definitely is not.
There is the clear principle that “the absence of evidence does not equate with the absence of existence”.
When the scientific method couldn’t solve my problems I used my expeience, and observation to draw logical and accurate conclusion, which had the type of practical value that science doesn’t.
Since then, many scientists have been doing experiments, and confirming what I already knew several decades ago.
An example of the difficulties science has, in relation to the cause of progressive adolescent scoliosis, can be seen in an article published by the website called BioMed Central on the 18th August 2006. There were 45 comments. This is number 45 . . .
“While variables that predict whether curves are progressive or non-progressive have been examined clinically in relation to prognosis with some success the biologic mechanisms that determine progression, stabilization, or resolution of AIS curves are unknown and deserve more study [Moderator see Refs. [68,174-178]].” See here.
My response with due respect, is that I had similar problems in 1975, which were not diagnosed or treated effectively, and I needed answers then, not 30 years later, when other people still can’t make decisions that need to be made for practical real life purposes. Max Banfield