As discussed in last week’s post, posture affects all aspects of our health especially those of us suffering from chronic pain. It adds to the daily wear and tear on our joints, ligaments, tendons, bones and muscles- forcing them to overwork.
There are two types of posture:
Dynamic– This is how we position ourselves in space while moving. This is important for walking, bending, stooping, lifting.
Static – How we position ourselves when not moving. This is important for sitting, standing and lying.
The longer we stand, sit, move, or bend, the more gravitational forces act to destabilize our spinal alignment and core muscles required to stay upright. As the chest muscles fatigue and tighten, the shoulders push forward and the head drops. This puts added pressure on the cervical spine as the brain automatically hyperextends the neck in order to keep the eyes looking straight ahead, by elongating its normal curvature. This position then stretches the spinal cord and surrounding nerve roots. Ultimately, it forces the thoracic and lumbar spine to accommodate those changes as well. All these stressors inhibit normal breathing and overworks muscles to the point of exhaustion.
For many, changes in gait and the way we sit because one side hurts worse than the other makes this cascade of imbalance worse. Over time this becomes our default position, exacerbating already hard to deal with pain.
But other issues can affect our posture as well:
Shoes– The higher the heels, the more we have to adjust to maintain proper balance and alignment.
Weight– Excess pounds can alter how we sit, stand and move. They also force the abdomen and legs to adjust and overwork to accommodate.
Poor balance– If your balance is off your posture is too. Talk to your healthcare provider to rule our underlying issues.
Devices– Learning how to best use all our technologically advanced devices without causing harm is important- read about how adjustments can be made at work and home to be positioned more ergonomically.
Spinal alignment– Conditions as scoliosis and kyphosis (often due to compressions from brittle bones caused by osteoporosis ) can significantly alter posture. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn ways to compensate.
Good posture means
- Keep chin parallel to the floor.
- Shoulders down and even
- Don’t clench teeth
- Arms rest easily at your side
- Hips even
- Abdomen engaged
- Knees and feet even and pointing straight ahead
- When standing weight distributed evenly on both feet
Learning ways to improve posture is so important, but first check your posture:
- Put your back against a wall with your heels three inches in front of the wall.
- Put one hand behind your neck and the other against your lower spine. If you can move either forward and back more than a couple of inches, your alignment may be off.
- Stand in front of a full length mirror and stand tall keeping your eyes straight and your ears level. Your shoulders should be even as well as the spaces between your arms and sides. The hips should be level with both kneecaps relaxed and facing forward. Ankles shouldn’t roll in or out but remain straight. If any of these areas are altered see you provider for how to best restore balance.
Exercises you can do anywhere anytime
Shoulder squeeze– Sit straight with hands under your thighs with your shoulders down and chin level. Bring up your shoulders back and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Count to ten and relax. Repeat five times.
Arm Raise– Grab both hands behind your back with straight arms. If you can’t reach, use a towel. Take a deep breath and raise your arms, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Count to five, then exhale and bring the arms back down. Repeat.
Arms across your chest– Bring one arm to shoulder level and bend at the elbow, keeping it parallel to the floor. Use the opposite hand to pull the elbow across your chest for a stretch in the shoulder and upper arm. Count to twenty and release. Repeat gives times on each side.
Stretch your upper body- Stand facing the corner of a wall. Place raised arms against the wall with elbows at shoulder height. Put one leg behind the other and bend the knee while exhaling and leaning into the wall . Keep your head up and back and chest straight. Feel the stretch as the chest opens up. Count to twenty and relax. Repeat five times. For a deeper stretch, add a resistance band.
Neck extension– Sit comfortably and press your head backwards into a chair or head rest. If unavailable, use your hands. Count to twenty, relax and repeat five times. Perform several times throughout the day.
Other ways to strengthen posture
Strengthen your core– Anytime you work your core muscles, your posture improves. Abdominal stretches, planks, leg extensions, and wall sits all work great. Check out our exercise archive for ideas.
Pretend you’re Superman– Get on the floor, on your belly, and put your arms straight out in front of you. Then simultaneously raise your arms and legs a couple of inches off the ground. Count to five and relax. Repeat five times morning and night.
Lengthen your spine– Get on the floor and sit on your knees with your feet together behind you. Hinge at the hip and walk your hands out in front of you as you gently place your forehead on the ground. Stretch your hands as far as you can in front of you. Take a deep breath and pull your hips towards your feet.
Something as simple as posture has a huge impact on our overall health and chronic pain. Rule out any underlying issues such as osteoporosis, scoliosis, or other concerns with your healthcare provider and use these tips to learn ways to improve and maintain proper alignment.