Posture.... That dreaded word that comes up over and over again. Every time people find out that I am a physical therapist, people automatically sit up straight, assuming that I'm going to judge or comment on it. We all have been told time and time again that posture is important, we all think we know what "good posture" is supposed to look like. But, do we really?
Over the last four weeks, we've gone on a journey - discussing some key muscle groups that are essential components of posture as it relates to the upper half of your body. We have examined the Rhomboids, Pectoralis Major, Deep Neck Flexors, Suboccipitals and we definitely can't forget the Upper Trapezius (if you want to go back to see what we discussed there, as well as some good ways to keep them happy, go check them out.) For the fifth and final (for now) installment of our posture series, we're going to help tie all of it together into a neat little package (this, in NO way, is EVERYTHING that can be said about posture).
In its truest sense, the foundation of posture is the overall alignment of the spine
If you look from the side of the body when someone is standing, you will notice that the spine itself is not in a straight column. Instead, it is in a "S" shape. Reason being, is that it is the optimal position in order to allow our body to distribute our weight evenly while still allowing the flexibility and mobility to move freely. When we move out of this normal "S" curve, it results in increased stress on certain portions of the spine in order to keep you upright.
Because our skeleton is merely the framework of our body, movements and positions are actually created through tension of our muscles. Two important things to remember as we continue to move forward:
When we talk about posture, we are really talking about the balance and position of the spine, in order to allow our bodies to maintain its position with the LEAST amount of work possible. When we stand with "good alignment", our weight is typically centered around the level of our belly button. In this case, the muscles in the front of our body, in theory, should be working equally as the muscles in the back of our body. If we were to draw a line starting from our ear canal straight down, and another line from the middle of our foot straight up, you would expect the two arrows to meet right in the middle.
Today, we're primarily focusing on the upper half of the body. We'll discuss the lower portion another day.
Now.... what happens when someone goes into that infamous "slouched posture" (the most common)? If we draw the same line starting from the middle of the head around the ear canal down towards the floor, you will find that the arrows never meet together. Instead, the arrow pointing down from the head will be in front of the one coming up from the ground.
What this results in, is the muscles in the back of your neck having to work much harder to keep your head upright (remember the upper trapezius??)
Based on biomechanics and physics, for every inch your head moves forward away from the neutral position, it forces the muscles such as the upper trapezius, cervical paraspinals and others to work as if the head were 10 pounds heavier.
Think about that for a second......
The average head weighs 12 lbs. Just by shifting your head forward by an inch, the muscles in the back of your neck have to work almost twice as hard to keep your head up instead of looking down at the floor. So when we are in these less-than-ideal postures, not only does it put more pressure on our spine, but it causes certain groups of muscles to work harder. Changing positions or moving for short periods of time is one thing and completely normal. However, given enough time in the same position, your body will adapt so that those muscles become inherently shorter/tighter.
So what happens to the other side of the neck? The front? We have talked about the deep neck flexors. Remember those little guys? What happens, is that because the posterior neck muscles are contracted and shortened, the front of the neck gets stretched out. This causes this muscle group to become weaker because the elongated position makes it harder for the muscle to contract and shorten to produce motion
If we look at the the chest and upper back, the same imbalance of tight/elongated muscles occurs, but this time the chest muscles (Pectoralis Major/Minor) become tight and the Rhomboids become elongated and weaker. What we haven't talked about (but will in future blog posts) is how the forward head posture not only affects the spinal alignment, but things such as jaw (TMJ) pain as well.
There are also consequences of having bad posture in the opposite way, where the spine is almost completely straight (flat back). You want to make sure that you live somewhere right in the middle to keep both sides happy.
Having 'lazy' muscles is not the only reason for poor posture. Other reasons include:
Issues that can arise from "poor posture" include:
I want to reiterate that these consequences are primarily when people are in these less-desireable positions for LONG periods of time. In fact, having good balance of muscle activation in other postures is what allows us to be strong and flexible. It's what we're designed to do. So, do not be afraid to move, but be aware of what positions your body is in and make sure that you spend time stretching out if you find yourself in one position for too long.
Get up. Move around. Take breaks!
That's all for now!
Be happy and healthy, and always be asking yourself #whatsyouropus
Dr. Janice Ying is a Los Angeles-based Physical Therapist. She is board-certified Orthopedic Physical Therapy Specialist and is regarded as a leading expert in the field of Performing Arts Medicine and the development of cutting edge injury prevention and rehabilitation programs for musicians.
The information on this website is intended for educational purposes and should NOT be construed as medical advice. If you have or think you have a health-related issue which needs to be addressed, please seek the help from your local licensed medical professional.