What’s the big deal about posture?

What’s the big deal about posture?

Neck pain, part 2

So, what’s the big deal about posture?  Many of us grew up with our mom harping on us to, “Stand up straight!”  I can remember rolling my eyes as I straightened up to get her off my back.  Well, she was right.  That slumped-over, rounded-shoulder posture is at the root of many complaints of neck pain, back pain, and shoulder pain.  The natural question is, “Why?”

Before I answer that question, you need to understand correct posture.

From a side view, correct posture lines the ears over the shoulders, which then sit over the hips and ankles.  The spine should gently curve forward at the low back and neck, with a curve backward at the upper/middle back.  This gives the trunk the optimal balance of stability and movement, allowing us to move in and manipulate our environment.  If it were any straighter, the spine would be too rigid.  If it were any more curved, the demand placed on the muscles would become too high.

From a frontal view, the spine should be straight, keeping left and right sides of the body balanced.

 

Finding correct posture

A lot of posture is governed by your pelvic position.

  1. To find correct posture, rock your pelvis forward and back, arching and flattening your low back.
  2. Once you have felt the extremes of both directions, find the middle or neutral position. This should balance your pelvis.
  3. Now, focus on your chest. Correct posture is more of a “breastbone up” than a “chest out” position.
  4. If your pelvis is balanced and your chest “up,” your shoulders should roll into the correct position and head should balance on your neck.

Of course if you have had bad posture for a long time, you probably have developed tightness in some muscle groups with weakness in others.  This will make correct posture feel “wrong.” At the same time you will have to work harder to maintain correct posture because you will have to fight your tight and weak muscles.  And over time, bad posture can begin to alter the actual shape/structure of the bones in your mid and upper back.  This is especially true if you have osteoporosis.

As I mentioned earlier, bad posture often causes problems with the neck, back, and shoulders.  At this point I will focus on posture’s effect on neck pain and headaches.

The average head weighs about 10 pounds.  For every inch the head comes forward in relation to the shoulders, it effectively increases in weight by 10 pounds!  That puts an incredible strain in the vertebrae of the upper back and muscles of the head and neck.

 

If you doubt it, take a 5 pound weight and hold it level with your face in your outstretched arm for 2-5 minutes.  Chances are your arm will fatigue.  And while you can lower your arm or drop the weight, you can’t put your head down.  Unless, of course, you actually lie down.  One of our instinctual drives as humans is to protect the head as all costs and by any means.  We are also programmed to always keep our eyes level and looking at the horizon.  It simply isn’t safe to walk around with our chins on our chest.  That means that no matter how tired the muscles holding your head upright become, they will continue holding up your head.

Many daily activities in today’s culture have us looking down:  at computer screens, tablets, smartphones, books, newspapers, etc.  This leads to the frequently seen slumped-back, rounded-shoulder, forward-head posture.  In fact, a Florida chiropractor coined the term “text neck” to describe the increase in neck pain associated with the increased use of smartphones and tablets.

So how do you combat these posture killers?

  1. Become more aware of your posture.
    • Use common activities or set an alarm to remind you to check your posture. Do you check email or walk past a particular object/location on a regular basis?  Be creative, but intentional with this.
  2. Take breaks from sitting activities (computers, studying, tablets, etc.) every 45 minutes to an hour.
  3. Adjust your seating to promote better posture (ergonomics). Think in terms of supporting the correct natural curves of the spine.
    • Your feet should rest flat on the floor without pressure behind the knees.
    • Adjust screens and monitors so that the center of the screen is level with your eyes or slightly lower.
    • Use a case or stand for tablets and phones.
  4. Stretch your neck muscles often. Some examples of stretches can be found in my post on exercises for neck pain.
  5. Strengthen postural muscles (3-5 times a week). Examples of those can also be found on my post on exercises for neck pain.
  6. Engage in activities that move you “up and out” instead of “down and in.”
    • Pull weeds
    • Play catch or tennis
    • Swim a backstroke
  7. Try some “posture resets.”

 

It takes consistent, focused work to fix your posture, but the payoff is worth it.

Unless, of course, you like looking like this:

 

 

 

Are you looking for basic information about neck pain and simple things you can do at home, then check out my first post in this series!

 

**While this post includes information about posture and neck pain, it is not intended to diagnose or prescribe specific treatment for individuals.  If you have a history of serious medical problems, questions, or other concerns, consult an appropriate medical professional.**

One Reply to “What’s the big deal about posture?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *