ASTRALIGN – MISSION STATEMENT AND DESIGN CONCEPTS
December 10, 2020
I’ve worked in the physical therapy/bodywork field for over twenty-five years. Over the thousands of hours I’ve worked with clients, I noticed the majority of them complained about chronic neck and shoulder discomfort. I further noticed that the ones with the most chronic shoulder/neck pain were also presented with an exaggerated curve in the Thoracic spine area (Kyphosis). Knowing that the Trapezius muscle runs not just across the top of the shoulders but down the Thoracic spine I began to focus my treatments on loosening up the Thoracic part of the Trapezius muscle as well as the intercostal rib muscles attached to the Thoracic vertebrae and achieved spectacular results in relieving shoulder and neck pain.
I drew the conclusion that it was incorrect thoracic positioning (Kyphosis) that was at the root of most neck and shoulder discomfort. And that the causes of incorrect thoracic positioning were:
a) Atrophy through lack of use of ‘binding’ back muscles such as the Serratus Posterior Superior, b) Forward head posture caused by contemporary demands of driving in cars, computer work and Smartphone usage.
This is serious business: Most heads weigh 10-14 pounds – every inch your head moves off-axis it gains an additional 10 lbs of gravitational weight. Beyond the stress, this puts on the neck and shoulder muscles, improper head positioning if unattended will lead to degenerative changes in the spine. Also and perhaps in the long run most damaging is that Kyphosis collapses the front (floating) ribs down into the abdominal cavity putting pressure on the heart and other internal organs and restricting the amount of room the diaphragm has to expand – thus restricting optimal oxygen infusion into to the body.
I deduced that forward-head posture and thoracic curvature (Kyphosis) were causing ‘positional muscles’ to be enlisted to do the work of ‘weight-bearing muscles’ in order to compensate, leading to muscle exhaustion and that the only solution was to regain proper thoracic extension (flexion) and reposition the thoracic spine so the head could be put back ‘on axis’ or close to it. HOWEVER, I noticed that even after instructing my clients on how to fire the muscles involved in thoracic extension in their active lives when they were involved in passive activities such as driving or computer or cell phone use they would ‘forget’ and revert to a curved thoracic position.
I recommended posture correcting contraptions such as harnesses and buzzers you wear but found that my clients invariably stopped using them after a while leading me to the conclusion that people don’t like to wear corrective gear. (Just ask Forrest Gump) I came to the conclusion that if I were to invent a body positioning pillow for use in their car, office or dining chair, airplane seat, or couch when watching TV or propped up in bed reading that would compel them into proper thoracic extension without having to think about it – that they would be able to stay at these activities for longer periods without developing shoulder/neck/back discomfort and lower the risk of the aforementioned degenerative phenomena.
As I searched the support bolster/pillow marketplace I was not able to find any dedicated Thoracic adjustment support cushions. I found that bolsters in the marketplace were either for supine use (laying down) to elongate the Cervical spine or, if for upright application-focused entirely on supporting the Lumbar spine.. This is extended to automobiles where lumbar adjustment mechanisms are pretty much standard now. Now while this may provide comfort for a while it will not solve the actual current epidemic posture problem which is Kyphosis (excessive forward rounding of the upper back). And some of these bolsters may actually promote it. The difference in my analysis of the contemporary posture crisis is that in most cases the lumbar achieves a nice lordotic curve naturally and does not need bolstering IF the Thoracic spine and floating ribs are supported by either muscle engagement (Intertransversarii Thoracis, Semispinalis Thoracis, Serratus Superiur etc.) or the application of a bolster to the Thoracic spine and surrounding ribs that provide a gentle amount of forwarding and upward thrust. When Kyphosis is eliminated, or at least reduced, the cervical spine no longer ‘dumps’ forward – thus repositioning the head - allowing it to sit on the axis at the top of the spine with the eyes oriented up onto the horizontal plane.
I experimented with various shapes and materials to come up with the configuration of the Astralign. When finally achieved it picked up my back ribs and gently tilted them forward – expanding the abdominal cavity - reinforcing the ideal positioning of the Cervical spine so that the head is positioned on-axis and not ‘dumping’ forward,
Crucial to achieving this realignment successfully was establishing, through lengthy testing, the perfect firmness of the foam. Too hard, and the user would experience muscle fatigue, too soft, and the support benefits of the bolster would not be there.
I then spent months trial testing different shapes for the main body of the Astralign to provide a universal fit to any back and to provide enough ‘Thoracic thrust’ but not too much.
The addition of SIDE WINGS was where the development of the Astralign really came together. These accomplish the functions of:
a) Coddling the user in a light embrace which keeps the user-centered on the pillow and in proper alignment at all times.
b) Mitigating G-forces during cornering (when used in a car seat)
c) Catching the back ribs in an embrace and enlisting them in a slight forward thrust to help the spine.
d) Providing weight dispersal to mitigate user fatigue (so the user’s back never gets tired of resting on the device) Prototypes that simply ran up the length of the spine invariably caused muscle fatigue to the longissimus thoracis and other muscles along the spine.