A common phrase heard throughout childhood is, “Sit up straight!” This postural reminder makes regular appearances in the classroom, at the dinner table and is a ubiquitous presence through middle and high school. The continual postural encouragement is dispensed to encourage healthy growth and function of the body, as well as a projection of self-confidence from the individual.
What exactly is good posture?
Good posture supports the performance of one’s daily activities with a functional range of motion and a positive flow of circulation. The bones are arranged properly in reference to one another, and the muscles that support the skeleton move freely within a normal range of motion and receive proper levels of circulation to help them do their jobs.
The American Chiropractic Association says, human beings “do not consciously maintain normal posture. Instead, certain muscles do it for us, and we don’t even have to think about it. Several muscle groups, including the hamstrings and large back muscles, are critically important in maintaining good posture. While the ligaments help to hold the skeleton together, these postural muscles, when functioning properly, prevent the forces of gravity from pushing us over forward. Postural muscles also maintain our posture and balance during movement.”
What causes poor posture?
Poor posture can be a product of many variables – weak muscles, injury, stress, improper footwear, lengthy sitting and a growing use of technology such as laptops and tablets. In all of these instances, muscles in one or more areas of the body become shortened and less flexible than the opposing muscles that work together to keep the body upright. The tightness creates asymmetry, and posture becomes imbalanced.
For example, extended hours spent sitting in a car or at a desk, hunched forward over a steering wheel/ keyboard, shortens the muscles in the front of the shoulders. When these muscles tighten, circulation is limited and range of motion is restricted. The forward rounding of shoulders and associated muscle imbalance can lead to spinal misalignment, fatigue or pain.
As the body aims to protect itself and avoid pain, the imbalanced posture perpetuates itself. The neck is pulled forward and down, straining muscles in the upper back and shoulders, causing tension and often headaches. The rib cage is tilted forward, compressing the abdominal area, prompting digestive imbalance. Pain may emerge in the neck, shoulders or back.
How can bad posture be corrected?
Massage. Therapeutic massage lengthens muscles that have been shortened, improving circulation, reducing pain and allowing the body to resume a normal range of motion. Stress and tension are relieved, and internal organs are better able to perform their essential functions.
Exercise. Regular exercise helps lengthen and strengthen muscles and improve range of motion. It increases circulation and oxygenation, improving cognitive function and eliminating waste products from the body.
Stretch. Daily stretching helps lengthen shortened muscles and keep the muscles and joints supple. As we age, connective tissues become less flexible, so the old adage proves true: if you don’t move it, you lose it.
Yoga. Yoga stretches and strengthens the body, working muscles that counterbalance one another. It builds core strength and balance, encouraging and maintaining the habits of good posture.
Correcting poor posture requires undoing the hardening, or fibrosis, of the muscles that have been habitually contracted, allowing them to relax and the bones to move back into place. Perhaps a simple concept, but not an easy task. Swedish massage can help increase circulation and release chronically held areas. Deep tissue massage helps wake up the body and reverse some of the fibrosis in the tissue. And other bodywork techniques can further precipitate postural adjustments.