What exactly IS posture? When I was a young girl we were taught “shoulders back, tummy in” and a lady NEVER looked down when descending stairs. We learnt to walk with a book on our heads. I am sure many of you remember similar lessons.
Good, or ideal, posture is when there is a state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the body against injury AND/OR the progressive development of irregularities. More on that in a bit.
Faulty posture is when we sit or stand or move in such a way that we create a faulty relationship between various parts of our body, primarily musculature, which places undue/increased strain on some muscles and not enough effort is required of other muscles. This leads to imbalances: some muscles become weak, others may become tight. Some may become stretched, others shortened over time. Pressure can be applied to other soft tissues causing additional pain or discomfort or restricting function.
What all this can lead to is a worsening, or progression, of any musculoskeletal issues we may be having. As regular readers will be aware, I have several back issues, the reason I converted to kyBoot shoes in the first place.
It may not be chronic conditions that cause faulty posture. It may be chronic habits! The most common such chronic habit is sitting at a desk all day. Office workers can develop upper crossed syndrome (UCS). The person may end up with permanent forward head, increased cervical lordosis, rounded shoulders and thoracic kyphosis. This all involves tight/shortened upper trapezius and levator scapulae and six other muscles in the region. Seven muscles, including serratus anterior, rhomboids and lower trapezius all weaken. Not sounding good is it?
Injuries that may result include headaches, bicep tendonitis and impingement of the rotator cuff. Chronic habits can lead to chronic conditions! It worth noting the rotator cuff is actually made up of four different muscles: infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres minor and supraspinatus.
What we tend to do is adjust how we sit, stand or move to relieve a discomfort or pain we may be feeling. This is called guarding. While this is certainly logical in cases of acute injuries, for example, if we have broken an ankle, in situations of chronic conditions like my back, guarding may not be so helpful at all over the long term as it can reduce the muscles’ ability to support the very structures you need those muscles to be strong enough to support. The muscles of the core and posterior chain support the spine for example, but if I don’t stand, sit and move correctly, over time those muscles will not function as well and the back pain I will experience will get worse. I know – I’ve been through it!
Personal trainers, fitness coaches, allied health professionals such as physiotherapists and osteopaths can all assess posture. A fitness professional may refer a client to an allied health professional for additional assistance if deemed necessary, or may prescribe specific exercises or exercise technique adjustments to help strengthen weakened muscles and improve posture.
What, as an individual can YOU do to help yourself when the professionals are not around to monitor your posture? Learn to be your own monitor. Make sure you know what good posture not only looks like, but what it FEELS like. I have a very good eye for detecting postural abnormalities in other people, yet I have had to focus really hard on detecting the same in myself. I know where my ankles should be in relation to my hips, where my ears should be in relation to my shoulders, where my shoulders should be in relation to my hips. But I can’t always see myself and we slip into old habits easily.
Habits are hard to break. We do a lot of life on auto-pilot: drive the same route home each day, walk to the train station without thinking about it. Our posture is also often a habit. We have to work hard at developing a new habit.
Knowing it and doing it can be two different things. When out walking, I will monitor my reflection in shop windows for example. I had, over the years, developed some degree of kyphosis and rounded shoulders (I was a desk jockey for so many years). As a result of the back issues I have, I had also developed a tendency to lean slightly forward. These aspects of poor posture are easily detected in a reflection. I consciously correct myself.
What if I am in the park and there are no shop windows? If I apply mindfulness to my body I can feel myself not standing tall, I know I do not have a neutral spine because I am leaning forward. I make the effort to correct my posture.
Fair warning: when you start doing this, it is actually tiring. The muscles have become weak over time and it does require physical effort to hold yourself in the correct position and keep walking. Just as those muscles became weak over time, they WILL regain strength over time if you persevere.
Yes, you may feel a twinge of pain as well as you straighten up – yet that passes and you actually think, “Gee, that DOES feel better!” A caveat on that – you may need to do strengthening and corrective work before you get to that point, depending on your current situation.
While a fitness professional or allied health professional may have prescribed daily exercises and these certainly will help, being conscious of your posture throughout the day will see results achieved faster.
This is not to say I never have back problems any more. I have degenerative structural changes in my lumbar spine. If I have a day where I completely overdo things, or do something I shouldn’t (such as sit for too long), yes, I will still end up stiff and possibly sore. With the right stretches, some walking and maintaining my strength workouts I now bounce back quickly without any need for pain medications. My kyBoot shoes have been a major component of my personal tool kit over the past twelve months.
I highly recommend consulting with a professional who can assess posture and prescribe exercises that will focus on the problem areas. Increasing or maintaining functional movement needs a long-term comprehensive program including footwear, stretching, appropriately targeted exercises (including strength work) and constant awareness to prevent lapsing into old habits.
For desk jockeys sit-stand desks are great, but be aware research is indicating neither sitting NOR standing all day are good for our bodies, there are health risks in both situations. Movement is the best medicine. I have a sit-stand desk in the office and I am also lucky in that I walk around a large campus quite a bit. Between alternating sitting and standing, and the walking, I move a lot during an office day. Not nearly as much as a nurse or a policeman on foot patrol, but more than many desk bound people.
Ensure you transition between sitting and standing with correct ergonomic positioning of your desk (and chair). If in doubt, ask your Occupational Health & Safety team for advice. The University of Western Australia has good reference material too, including a page on sit-stand desks.
This is an edited article originally published on the kyBun website.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com
10 thoughts on “Is Your Posture Exacerbating Your Pain?”
As a person with Ankylosing Spondylitis I have over the years lost 3″ as my back bends forward more each year. I do understand the pain and pressure of a back that is not straight and flexing forward. Gosh I hate bending forward.
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Rick, I feel for you. A close personal friend of mine has AS and it does pose very specific challenges. I am not sure where you are located, but one of our international cricketers, Michael Slater, has done a lot of good work in the AS space. He played professionally with AS.
Thank you Robin, I am in Indiana USA near Indianapolis. This darn disease and RA together makes things so complicated. Few medications work on both and those that do, I have already burned through. I am hopeful for the next breakthrough. Before my nose starts dragging the floor.
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I went and checked your page quickly (will do more later, am working) and realised you were in US. It was important, because I wasn’t sure you’d be familiar with cricket! RA and AS together certainly would make life complicated. One is challenging enough.
I am familiar with Cricket. However, I have never played. Now Rugby I love that game.
Wonderful article! I am dealing with this very thing also and have seen great improvement in my pain levels by doing physical therapy exercises to strengthen the middle back muscles and be intentional about correcting my posture! I love non-medicine & non-surgical options that really work! Thanks for sharing!
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Thank you very much. I am glad to hear you are seeing improvement. Physical therapy works! It is finding what works best for each individual that can be the challenge.
Great post. I live with chronic back pain due to having scoliosis since I was 10 years old. I know my ‘structural’ problem can’t be fixed, but I need to be constantly aware of my posture. Pain makes posture worse and bad posture makes pain worse. I can’t solve my problem, but I need to try to ensure my posture is as good as possible.
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Thank you for sharing your experience. It is a never-ending battle, isn’t it? With my latest medication changes, flares, etc complicating things, I’m constantly having to adjust my posture. It is worth the effort though!
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[…] with a chronic condition have a musculoskeletal condition. It is vital we pay attention to our posture and our body balance. By body balance I don’t mean standing on one foot (although that IS a […]