- Do you have good posture? Is it the same, or different than it used to be?
- Do you have tightness or stiffness in your neck and upper back? Do you suffer from low back pain? How about stomach aches or headaches? (Poor spinal alignment can trigger all of these issues).
- Think of someone you know that has excellent posture. What assumptions, if any, would you make about that person’s health?
- Now think of someone you know with terrible posture and ask the same question.
Why is posture so important? It’s not just the looks – although that’s part of it. Your posture is all about your spine, of course – and everything your body does is connected to the spine. When the spine ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
A healthy spine has four natural curves: the pelvic (or sacral) curve, the lumbar curve, the thoracic curve, and the cervical curve. See below:
Now look at what sitting does to your spine. Ouch!
Postural distortions can happen at any point in the spine, depending on what you do. Most of us sit all the time. But those of you with physical jobs, like landscapers and mechanics, can suffer from distortions that result from repetitive motion. When the spine is misaligned, certain muscles tighten up, and others become weak from disuse. When this happens, other muscles step in to compensate. The muscles tug at the spine, and eventually the spine shifts away from its natural curvature.
Below are the most common postural distortions:
Okay, so this is just a fit guy demonstrating these conditions. But you can see how every postural distortion involves a problem with one of the natural spinal curves. The two most common issues are Lumbar Lordosis and Thoracic Kyphosis – but many times you’ll see a combination. Extreme Kyphosis is what we commonly refer to as the “old lady hump.” Not a very nice name, but everyone knows what it means.
Many times, one postural distortion will create a secondary issue. If you have Kyphosis, there’s a good chance you’ll also develop Lordosis or Forward Head – these are your spine’s compensatory attempts to stay balanced (so you don’t fall over).
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are a few concepts that will help you start improving your posture:
1. Restore your spine’s natural curves. Get some firm pillows of various size, and a yoga block or 1/2 foam roller. Lying on your back, arrange your props underneath you in a way that restores the natural spinal curve.
For kyphosis, place a firm pillow at the base of your rib cage and lay over it such that your thoracic spine arches and your chest opens up. Let your arms fall to your sides, breathe deeply, and let all your muscles relax.
For forward head, lie on your bed with your head hanging off the edge. Find a position that’s pain-free and comfortable, so you can relax your neck muscles. If this is too intense, try a similar configuration lying on the floor with pillows.
2. Stop doing things that contribute to bad posture. If you know your seat at work is the problem, do whatever you can to change it as soon as possible. Standing workstations are increasingly popular now – and you don’t have to spend a lot of money. If you always carry a purse or heavy bag on one shoulder, switch sides. Same goes for the bed – switch sides with your partner every few weeks.
3. Be aware. Most people have very poor body awareness, especially when it comes to those weak, unused muscles. Using a mirror, try to stand up straighter, tuck your tailbone, lift the chest and pull your chin towards your throat. Imagine yourself growing TALLER. Notice what muscles you use. Throughout the day, check in with those muscles and see if you can adjust your posture. This takes practice, but it’s incredibly effective.
In Part II, we’ll talk about ergonomics.
Share your posture concerns and questions in the comments below!