posture

Is Your Posture Exacerbating Your Pain?

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?

How are you standing?

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

Are Your Shoes Contributing to Your Pain?

I’m not just talking about six inch stilettos. Our shoes affect how we walk, how we stand and consequently our posture. If we are already facing joint issues, postural imbalances aren’t going to help. In simple terms, we can end up favouring (guarding or protecting) some aspect of our body which can place more strain on another part. It can become a case of the chicken or the egg, trying to work out where it all started.

Part of the solution may be changing your footwear. My rheumatologist gave me a stern lecture about heels. OK, his tone wasn’t stern, but I could tell his intent was! We know high heels aren’t good for us, but we keep wearing them anyway – until we get to the point that it is JUST TOO PAINFUL to persevere. We have to find more suitable footwear.

My Shoe Adjustments

About six months ago I bit the bullet and went on a “low heels” shopping spree for the office and social wear. In my down time I was living in runners, but that’s not such a good look in the office. Socially? I was warned, in no uncertain terms, by a girlfriend NOT to wear runners on a night out. Even with these lowest of low heels I was still experiencing pain in my right buttock and lumbar spine at various times, usually towards the end of the day.

I’ve found a great help for me – and for a neighbour, a friend and the friend’s husband. This may not work for you, but I’m sharing in the hope others may also benefit.

In sheer desperation one day I dragged my old MBT shoes out of the closet and wore them for two days. NO PAIN! However, they were so old (I’d forgotten I had them) that wearing them triggered end of life (theirs, not mine). Not surprising really – nothing lasts forever. I tried to buy replacements. Very, very hard to get in Australia these days.

Kyboot by Kybun

Doing my “can I buy them somewhere else” research I stumbled across KyBoot by Kybun. I discovered the brains behind the original MBTs, Karl Müller, had moved on to developing his next generation shoes. There are only four stockists in Australia: one in Melbourne, two in New South Wales (Sydney and Mona Vale) and one in Brisbane. Kyboot don’t have a very high profile in Australia – yet.

What makes them different? This is an American video, but illustrates the technology.

I visited the Melbourne stockist in early July with NO intention of buying, just seeing what they had and trying them on. Yes, I walked out with my first pair. As soon as you walk around in them you can feel yourself standing differently. A co-worker who sees me at work every day told me I was walking as if I was twenty years younger – and without dobbing that person in, they are qualified to make that assessment.

I walk around a lot in my other job so my first priority was something I could wear to work that looked professional (i.e. did not look like runners). As you can see from the video below, they are fine for an office environment.

My Contacts’ Reactions

I posted about them on my personal Facebook page and spoke to a neighbour in my apartment building. It isn’t just me. My neighbour bought two pair: one for work and one for social. Her comment to me, “I don’t even take them off when I get home, they are too comfortable”.

The Facebook contact’s experience is best shown by her posts to me (I have redacted her name to protect her privacy).

After a while this was her follow-up note to me.

She sent me a picture of her choice.

Kyboot

A Second Pair

So now I had solved my office problem, but I wanted some that I could wear working in Limberation. Something that would go with my gym gear. On the Kybun website I had spotted the very colourful style featured at the top of this article. Sadly, this style is not stocked in Australia. Yet, anyway! The Melbourne stockists, Peter Sheppard, very kindly ordered them in for me specially. I was very excited when they arrived. I was able to determine the size required by trying on another similar shape style prior to ordering.

Pros and Cons

These are not cheap. Up to $500 a pair depending on the style. As a friend said to me, “You can’t put a price on pain reduction”. Yes, my budget has been very tight this month, but I’m set for a while now.

The heel can also look a little odd when walking. Ignore the cat hair, she was all over me when I got home! In this photo I am landing on my heel to show the “squishiness”. The runners I have bought are not as squishy.

Kyboot

You really must try them on and be correctly fitted. My two pairs are two different sizes – the runners I wear with socks are slightly bigger than the ones I wear with stockings or bare feet. Take a typical pair of your socks with you to ensure the correct fit. I was really interested in getting a pair of sandals for summer, but I have very flat feet and in an open shoe my toes don’t stay where they should, so I think I’ll have to stick to closed styles.

The benefits, if these shoes suit you, are worth every cent. Everything we do – controlling our weight, increasing our movement & exercise (re-conditioning our bodies), reducing stress in our lives – all contribute to us managing our conditions and improving our quality of life. If a shoe helps us experience less pain or be able to move for longer before we experience the change (onset of pain), then we are going to be better off. Not only will we experience less pain, but we will re-condition faster than we might otherwise have done which in turn will help us manage our pain.

Summary

Before you ask, no, I don’t get any payments or discounts for writing about the KyBoot. I’m sharing because I’ve been so amazed and so have two contacts of mine. I have worn mine every single day since I got them (nearly two months ago). One of the Peter Sheppard staff told me that is what she had done the day I bought my first pair and frankly I didn’t believe her. Now I do.

The styles available in Australia are not the full range, however styles will change over time and if you are travelling overseas you may find different styles available in different overseas outlets. Just make sure you are getting the genuine article by checking the Kybun stockists page.

Research. Read the Kybun site to familiarise yourself with the product. The English version of the site probably doesn’t read quite the same as the Swiss version, but the basics are covered. There is even a section on “Initial Reactions” as depending on how you are standing/walking now you body may need to adjust. I didn’t have that experience, nor did the people quoted above, but be aware it is a possibility.

These may not be suitable for you. Even if these aren’t, it won’t hurt to evaluate your shoe wardrobe. Ask yourself whether you suffer less pain, or last longer before pain starts, in one shoe compared to another. Get rid of the ones you know are not doing you any favours. I hated giving up my heels – but now I just don’t care! I’m happily walking around everywhere! Yes, I kept my low heeled fashion shoes – there will be social occasions when I want to wear a dress shoe.

If you were a MBT wearer, these are much easier to walk in. There is a MBT v KyBoot comparison page on the KyBun site.

If you already have some Kyboot shoes, please share your experience in the comments.

Update November 19, 2017

Above I stated I received nothing from Kybun for writing this article. That is correct. I am disclosing that as a result of this article I have since been engaged to write for Kybun for a period of twelve months.