Whether we know our posture isn’t great, or aren’t even aware, less than perfect posture may be the cause stiffness, aches and pains, or just feeling like we’ve lost our umph. Hard workouts, excessively physical or sedentary jobs, long drives, Netflix marathons and even crafting or gaming can all create positions that aren’t ideal, and excessive amounts of time in these positions can create problems. We put our bodies through a lot!
The stereotyped image we have with poor posture is being slouched or hunched forwards. But poor posture may be more subtle – a shift of the hips or shoulders to one side that results in a mild scoliosis for instance, or our spine may twist as a result of a pelvic or shoulder rotation. Over time this causes changes in our muscles – some become weak or switch off, and some over-work to compensate. As a consequence, we don’t move as effectively and joints may become stiff. On the flip side, we may think of good posture as a traditional dancers poise and I often see people so afraid of ‘poor posture’ that they hold themselves in this hyperextended position, which can create problems of its own, such as excessive tension in muscles. Changes in our muscles and joints create a vicious cycle too – for instance rounding our shoulders can weaken back muscles and shorten our chest muscles, which makes it even more likely that we will adopt this rounded position.
If an extreme one way or the other is unhelpful then we need to aim for the middle – but where is that? When assessing posture we firstly look from the back and think of the spine as a plumb line – we don’t want it to deviate left or right of that line. Looking at next from the side in standing we ideally want a straight line through our ear, shoulder, hip & ankle, to avoid our spine being forwards or backwards of our lateral plumb line. From the side we see the natural curves of the spine – these should be present, and gentle – not excessive. Lastly, we check any rotation – this is usually present if one side of the hips or shoulders is more forwards or backwards compared to the other.
So, once we have identified any irregularities in posture how do we fix them?
- Having an awareness means we can consciously correct postural changes, which is the first step. But if these changes have been forming unconsciously for some time it will take a bit more to unravel them.
- The next step is to resolve the joint & soft tissue changes that sit hand-in-hand with posture changes. We need to break that cycle and we do so by using techniques like manipulations, mobilisations & massage to release those joints and soft tissues which are stuck.
- To address muscles which have become weak or inactive, and joints which have become stiff, we prescribe specific exercises, usually combining stretching & strengthening.
- Prevention is always better than cure so by spending time understanding how postural adaptations have occurred we can identify gentle but effective lifestyle changes to break the cycle which has allowed them to develop and continue. This may be making changes to how we sit when were driving or at the desk, using equipment to support us, or strategies to avoid prolonged ‘unnatural positions’.
- Once we have corrected posture we need to ensure it doesn’t unravel itself again. Knowing and avoiding the triggers, keeping up with rehab exercise and instilling lifestyle changes ensure we don’t relapse back to that sunken place.
These changes won’t yield instant results, but the long term gains of our bodies working comfortably and efficiently are immeasurably worth it. If you’re concerned about your posture and how it is impacting you we would love to help. Talk to us to find out more. Sarah