Posture is fundamentally important to our overall health and contributes to efficient, pain free movement and optimal functionality. Due to our busy lives and stressful environments, posture tends to be neglected, leaving us with stiff necks, rounded shoulders and backaches. That’s why July is posture awareness month!
Posture is the position of the body with relationship to each of its parts: the head, trunk and limbs. Changes in posture occur when any of the parts are moved. A person who demonstrates good posture has better balance, increased circulation and can optimize breathing. Ideal posture involves training your body to have muscular and skeletal balance that protects the supporting structures of the body against injury. Correct posture can also decrease abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in arthritis and can prevent the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions. Paying attention to posture can prevent muscle strain and fatigue, overuse problems and back pain.
In order to have proper alignment you must first have: good muscle flexibility, normal range of motion in joints, strong postural muscles, an awareness of correct posture and an even balance of muscles on both sides of the spine. Try standing against a wall with your shoulders, heels and buttocks touching the wall. In this position the back of the head should touch the wall. If it doesn’t, the head is being carried too far forward. Using a mirror, align your ears, shoulder and hips. These three points should make a straight line. There are 3 distinct curves of a healthy spine: a lumbar arch at the lower back, a thoracic curve in the opposite direction (like a “C”) at the rib cage, and an arch at the neck that mirrors the curvature of the lower back. When the “S” curve is present and in balance, the alignment provides structural stability with minimal stress on the body.
There are numerous things that contribute to poor posture such as obesity, pregnancy, weak and/or tight muscles, pain leading to muscle guarding and high-heeled shoes. We need to be aware of posture while doing everyday things like sitting at the dining table, driving a car or working at a desk. Poor sitting and standing habits can produce postural distortions such as rounded shoulders, disc degeneration, low back pain and rotator cuff problems. We will be focusing on correct standing, sitting, driving, lifting and sleeping positions. In addition we’ll provide muscle strengthening and stretching techniques for the prevention and correction of poor posture.
Keep your head up with your chin tucked in. Stand up tall with your shoulders aligned with your ears. Keep feet shoulder width apart. The arches of the foot should be supported. Keep your shoulder blades together, chest forward, and knees straight but not fully extended. Avoid standing in the same position for long periods of time and always wear comfortable shoes. To have your feet and stride assessed, visit Road Runner Sports. They will analyze your foot strike and arch, then recommend the best fit for your individual needs.
While sitting take advantage of the chairs features. Sit up straight and align the ears, shoulders and hips in one vertical line. Your buttocks should touch the back of the chair. Use the back support of the chair to ease the tension of the back muscles. For extra low back support you can use an ergonomic adjustable chair, a footrest, towel or small pillow. Also, avoid unbalanced posture such as crossed legs, leaning to one side, hunching the shoulders forward and tilting the head. Keep both feet flat on the floor, do not rest your feet on the legs of the chair as it will lead to increased pressure on the back of the legs and impair circulation to and from the feet. When you look at your computer screen your head should not have to tilt up or down. Sitting in the same position too long can be tiring even with good posture, so move often.
When driving your car, the seat should be a proper distance from the petals and steering wheel to avoid leaning forward. Your knees should be at the same level as your hips. Use the headrest for what it’s intended- to support the middle of your head! Keep your head back and chin tucked in. Place both hands on the steering wheel when possible to avoid leaning to one side or keeping one arm higher than the other for extended periods of time.
Correct Lifting and Carrying
This is when people are most prone to injury. When you lift a small child, a box or even the laundry basket injuries can occur from improper lifting techniques. To pick up an object that is lower than your waist, keep your back straight and bend at the knees and hips. Never bend forward at the waist with your knees locked out. Be careful not to jerk or twist the object towards your body, as this is usually when the low back becomes weakened or injured. Keep your stomach muscles tight and always go slow. When carrying something with one arm such as a baby or purse, switch arms regularly to avoid joint and muscular misalignments.
Always try to keep your back in neutral alignment regardless of which side of your body you sleep on. If you sleep on your side, bend your knees but do not bring them to your chest. If you prefer to sleep on your back, try putting a pillow underneath your knees and a lumbar support under your low back to create better alignment. Avoid sleeping on your stomach as it can lead to back and neck strain due to improper spinal alignment. Your pillow should be placed under your neck, not under your shoulders. The thickness and contour of the pillow should keep your head in a neutral position.
Here are more ways to correct improper alignment:
1. First, strengthen your muscles. In the gym we use the super pullover machine, the lat pulldown machine, the low back machine and various free weight exercises in order to strengthen the back muscles. These muscles need to be developed in order to stand up straight. While you are at home, try squeezing your shoulder blades together and hold it for 2 minutes. You can also use a mirror to align your ears, shoulders and hips then raise both arms to the side and hold for 1 minute.
2. Second, increase your flexibility. Stretch your neck in 3 directions (left, right, forward). On your hands and knees curl your back upwards like a cat, then perform the opposite motion and arch your back.
3. Follow the guidelines for correct standing, sitting, lifting, driving and sleeping. Be aware of your posture throughout the day. If you need additional help, ask us to conduct the posture test with you and go over additional exercises and stretches.
Many back problems are gradual and stem from years of poor posture; it’s almost never one particular event that injures a disc, but it’s years of improper posture and misuse that created the weakness that lead to the injury. Having better posture just takes some muscular understanding and awareness. Ask us if you have any questions about your alignment or how to create a better environment to promote improved posture!