You should be aware of your posture at all times as good posture is crucial for maintaining spine health. Let’s take a look at the tightness and imbalances that commonly occur in people.
Good posture is particularly important for athletes performing weight training, especially when they deadlift and perform bent over rows. And then after their morning session, people return to their busy life. They head to the office, sit down and get caught up in the desk job that often leads to a compromise in a healthy backbone. Without a trainer to correct their posture, numerous desk hours or lengthy periods of standing can create all kinds of imbalances.
Now we’ll take a look at the physical causes of poor posture, how it can cause long-term pain and what pointers you can use to help create and maintain a healthy spine.
By maintaining static postures for numerous hours at work, certain joints become less flexible and in general our deep stabilizing muscles become weaker, while the long two-joint muscles become overactive and tight.
This recruitment pattern of two-joint muscle overactivity (eg. hamstrings, hip flexors, latissimus dorsi) while other muscles are inhibited (eg. gluteals, deep back muscles, deeper abdominal muscles) affects how we perform everyday movements and sporting activities. Pain then comes from lactic acid build-up in tense muscles because of long hours in static or repetitive positions and/or life stress.
When you experience back pain, studies show the brain splints the painful area with muscle tightness and holds our backs rigid as a response to the subconscious fear that our backs are fragile and easily injured, when in fact the opposite is true. Our backs are made to bend and are surrounded by ligaments and muscles, and by not moving – as we’ve been designed – we go against the evolutionary processes. Physiotherapists know through the latest clinical research that two components are important for all pain sufferers. Firstly, giving the right advice and education to the patient and secondly, appropriate exercise programs.
Recognizing and knowing your main faulty postural habits will point to specific muscular tightness and imbalances in the back. Once you’ve analyzed your defective postural habits, there’s an exercise known as ‘Matrix’ that can be individualized to your issues.
DO YOU USUALLY SLUMP IN A CHAIR?
This usually means your lower back is overstretched. In consequence, often your hamstrings, calves, lat dorsi and upper trap muscles become overactive while your upper neck, mid-back and hip joints compensate with stiffness, causing shortening to the soft tissues and imbalances throughout the backbone.
SHOULDER BLADE POSITIONING
This postural exercise will help you balance the neck and shoulder blade muscles in the best position.
Sit in front of a mirror with your weight evenly balanced on both sides of your buttocks, knees bent and feet approximately in line with your knees. Put your hands comfortably in your lap. Now, compare the posture of the painful side of your shoulder, neck or upper back to your non-painful side.
Determine your faulty posture from the three options below then try the corresponding exercise designed to treat the fault. Hold for 10 seconds with 5-10 reps, building to two sets of 10 reps, holding for 20 seconds each rep.
1 Shoulder on painful side sitting too high.
Gently draw your shoulder blade down and back just a couple of millimeters towards your opposite hip. Ensure that the muscles at the front of your neck and shoulder stay relaxed. You should only move your shoulder down toward your hip, not forward.
2 Shoulder on painful side sitting too low.
Gently draw the tip of your shoulder up towards your ear just a couple of millimeters. Ensure that the muscles at the front of your neck and shoulders stay relaxed. You should lift your shoulder only toward your ear but not forward.
3 Shoulder on painful side sitting too far forward.
Maintaining your arm relaxed, gently draw your shoulder blades together so that your shoulder moves just a couple of millimeters backward. Keep muscles between your neck and the top of your shoulders relaxed.
You may also have a combination of the above faulty postures, so combine the two postural exercises to start you on the path to less neck and upper back pain.
To determine if your standing posture has to be adjusted, stand in front of a full-length mirror. Stand sideways and place your hands on your hip bones. Now, imagine your pelvis were a bowl of water and feel the position of your hip bones. Are you tipping the ‘bowl’ backward or forward, or are you holding it level? For best posture, you want to concentrate on keeping the imaginary bowl of water level. Concentrate on making slight postural adjustments until you achieve this effect. Take a mental snapshot of how this looks and feels to hold the posture.
Then, focus on how you hold your neck and head. Make sure your chin is tucked in slightly towards your chest so that your neck is lengthened a little. If your chin or head juts forward, gently pull yourself into alignment. And finally, develop an awareness of whether you usually favor one leg or another when you stand – or is your weight on your toes or heels? If you sense an imbalance in the way you distribute weight on your legs, make sure you change your weight-bearing leg frequently.
EXERCISES TO DEVELOP POSTURAL AWARENESS
1 Training pelvic tilt to relieve the load on the lower back
GOAL: Find the best position for your lower back with minimal stress and discomfort.
HOW TO DO IT? Lie on your back with bent knees. Put your hands on the bones of your pelvis at the front. First, tilt your pelvis one way and then the other by visualizing your pelvis is a bowl of water and you are tipping water out of the front and then the back. As you do this, your tailbone will come off the floor a little and then flatten onto the ground. Repeat three to four times then find the point in the middle where discomfort in your backbone is at its minimum. Repeat this process to become accustomed to finding the best spinal posture for standing, sitting and strength training.
2 Resisted leg kick-backs
GOAL: To teach the buttocks and lower limb muscles to activate when they’re shortening and lengthening. This is very important for many types of exercise and physical activities such as running.
HOW TO DO IT? Kneel on all fours on a mat with a piece of exercise band (with a loop tied at both ends) around the heel of one foot and hold onto the other end with one hand. Position your backbone in the most comfortable position (as described above). Activate deep stabilizing muscles. Straighten the leg with the exercise band out behind, with the intention to get your back hip and leg in a straight line, parallel to the ground.
IT TAKES SOME TIME THAT POSTURAL ADJUSTMENTS CHANGE THE BRAIN’S AUTOMATIC SOFTWARE PROGRAM
Improving your posture through specifically designed exercises individualized to your personal needs is key to eliminating soft tissue imbalance leading to pain. As part of your health and fitness program, commit to reaching these postural corrections. Be patient; automatic postures can take several weeks to start feeling normal and time is needed to build muscle endurance.