Headaches, low back pain, shoulder impingement, jaw pain. What do all of these have in common? Believe it or not, but poor posture may be a contributor to each of these issues. Posture is a major factor leading to many chronic and insidious orthopedic health conditions, as well as may prolong or inhibit the healing of current injuries.
How can a simple static position be so damaging? Poor posture holds the body in an uneven position for an extended time, altering the muscle balance by shortening some muscle groups and lengthening/weakening others. It also places abnormal forces through joints at sub-optimal positions, further irritating structures surrounding that joint such as ligaments and joint capsules. This is even more emphasized in our society today in which much of what we do is in one position throughout the day including work, relaxation, and recreation (think driving, computer work, texting, playing video games). The imbalances caused by poor posture may also affect dynamic tasks by altering your movement patterns and causing abnormal stresses. Daily activities including reaching overhead, squatting, holding your child or running can be affected by these imbalances and lead to injury.
Proper posture is more than standing tall and balancing a book on your head. Here are some easy tips to improve your positioning:
-Keep your hips in a “neutral position”. If you are either standing or sitting, do not let your pelvis roll forward or back, but rather keep it right in the middle at the point where you feel the tallest.
-Elongate your spine. Imagine a string pulling you up from the top of your head allowing you to lift your sternum. Ensure you do not have excessive curve in your spine in either direction through your low or mid back.
-Roll your shoulders down and back, away from your ears. Think about placing your shoulder blades in your opposite back pocket. If looking from the side, your shoulder should be in line with the middle of your hip.
-Do not let your head come forward, but instead retract it a bit in order to keep your ears in line with your shoulders.
-If sitting, do not cross your legs and keep your feet on the ground. You may need a lumbar support (pillow, towel roll, or specialized seat back) to help support your neutral spine position for a prolonged time.
-Frequently check-in with yourself to re-set your posture throughout the day, as it can be difficult to maintain when first starting out. Set a timer on your phone to remind you every 20 mins until correct posture is a habit.
-Look at yourself in the mirror or have someone take a picture of you from the front and side to assess how you’re doing.
Keep in mind, some people may require additional stretches or exercises in order to attain or maintain these positions easier and a Physical Therapist can help with this. Also, if you have a specific condition or imbalance you may need a professional to help you make specific modifications to your posture that is best for you individually.
Posture is important for maintaining muscle balance, normalizing forces and correcting movement patterns. It may take some time to develop this as a habit, but some simple alterations in positioning have the potential to make a large impact.
*image courtesy of HEP2GO.com