Posture is the term used to describe the alignment of your joints. In simple terms, posture can be good or bad but as posture refers to pretty much every joint in your body, it’s actually a little more complicated than this. Poor posture is usually the result of one or more of the following…
Muscle tightness – a tight muscle will pull a joint out of good posture. For example, tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward.
Muscle weakness – weak muscles are less able to hold you in good posture than strong muscles. For example, weak upper back muscles can be the cause of a slouch.
Bad habits – your body is a quick learner and if you frequently adopt poor posture, it will soon become habitual. Sitting at your desk and craning your neck forward so your eyes are closer to the screen will soon become the position you adopt whenever you are sitting or standing.
Lack of postural awareness – if you don’t know what good posture looks and feels like, it’s unlikely you’ll find it by accident. You parents may well have told you to stand up straight or not to slouch but unless you were actually taught what these things are, you may not have understood what was being asked of you.
Being pregnant or significantly overweight – a big belly, thick thighs or a heavy bust can significantly alter your posture. In the case of pregnancy, postural abnormalities normally only manifest in the second and third trimesters and soon disappear in the postnatal period. Being overweight for a long time can cause more lasting damage to your posture.
Causes and fixes for common postural problems
If your postural problem also causes you pain, consult with a medical professional before trying to fix it for yourself however there are several things you can do to fix or prevent poor posture.
1. Forward head carry
Ideally, your ears should be directly over your shoulders but spending long periods of time sat in front of a computer or driving a car can result in a forward head carry. This is commonly the result of poor sitting habits, tight deep neck flexors, weak neck extensors and bad eyesight. Why bad eyesight? Because if you can’t see your screen clearly, you will crane your head forward to be able to view it more clearly!
To fix this problem, get your eyes fixed, remember to lengthen your neck as though your head is being lifted by a balloon and perform the following two exercises…
Chin tucks – lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Lengthen your neck and tuck your chin in toward your chest. Hold this position for ten to fifteen seconds and then relax. Repeat three to five times.
Head raises – sit down, place your hands on your knees and lean forward. Lower your head toward the floor and then raise it again; look up toward the ceiling. Lower your head and repeat. Continue until you feel a mild discomfort in the back of your neck. Rest a moment and repeat. Do these exercises several times a day to a) stretch and b) strengthen the relevant muscles.
2. Rounded shoulders
Rounded shoulders are often seen with medially or inwardly rotated upper arms. If you stand in front of the mirror and can see the backs of your hands in your reflection, you probably have medially rotated upper arms. If you look at yourself from the side and can see your upper back, your shoulders are rounded. Not only are these two postural abnormalities aesthetically unpleasing, they can also have a negative effect on your shoulder health and therefore function.
To fix your shoulders, perform these exercises:
Broomstick shoulder stretch – hold a broomstick behind your lower back and grasp the ends. Push your elbows forward to rotate your arms outward. Shrug your shoulders down and back and hold this position for 60-seconds or more.
External shoulder rotations – lie on your side with a weight, such as a dumbbell, in your uppermost hand. Bend your arm to 90 degrees, tuck your elbow into your side and lower your forearm across your abdomen. Raise the dumbbell up by rotating your shoulder outward; your elbow should remain tucked into your side at all times. Lower the weight back down and repeat. Do the same number of reps for each arm.
3. Hunched upper back
A hunched or rounded upper back can become a serious postural problem if left untreated and may even become a fixed abnormality called a Dowager’s hump. Slouches are usually the result of overly tight chest muscles, weak upper back muscles and poor sitting habits.
Address this problem by performing these exercises several times a day…
Doorway chest stretch – stand in an open doorway and raise your arms so your elbows are bent to 90-degrees and your forearms are flat on the doorframe. Your elbows should be level with your shoulders. Push your chest forward and through the doorway to stretch your chest. Hold this position for 60-seconds and then relax.
Wall angels – stand with your back against a flat wall with your feet around 12-inches away from the wall. Bend your elbows to 90-degrees and place your arms and backs of your hands flat against the wall, elbows at shoulder-height. Slide your arms up and down the wall while keeping your shoulders back and your arms and hands pressed against the wall. Perform six to ten repetitions and then rest.
4. Anterior pelvic tilt
An anterior pelvic tilt means your lower back is excessively arched, your pelvis tips forward at the top and to the rear at the bottom and your butt sticks out. This places a lot of stress on the ligaments and disks of your lumbar spine. An anterior pelvic tilt is common in people that are sedentary, spend a lot of time sitting down or who have weak abdominal muscles.
To fix this problem, perform the following exercises…
Hip flexor stretch – kneel down and then take a step forward so you are in a split stance. Place your hands on your front knee and then let your hips drift forward as you extend your rear leg. Hold this position for 30 to 60-seconds and then change sides. Make this stretch deeper by moving your rear leg further back. Try to keep your front shin vertical.
Glute bridges – lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Push down and lift your hips up so your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Lower your butt back to the floor and repeat. Make this exercise more demanding by holding a weight across your hips.
Planks – lie on your front and rest on your elbows and forearms. Lift your hips up off the floor so your body is straight and there is a slight but not excessive curve in your lower back. Hold this position for 30 to 60-seconds and then relax. Do not hold your breath! Rest on your knees if a full plank is too demanding.
5. Elevated shoulders
Stress can make your shoulders creep up and hunch. If this happens frequently enough, you can end up with shoulders that are elevated all the time – even when you aren’t stressed. To fix this problem you should learn to manage your stresses better and also perform these exercises…
Upper trapezius stretch – place your left hand lightly on the top of your head and reach you’re your right leg toward the floor with your right hand. Gently pull your head over to the side while continuing to reach towards the floor with your opposite arm. Hold this stretched position for 30 to 60-seconds and then change sides.
Reverse shrugs – to strengthen your lower trapezius muscles, sit on an exercise bench with your hands next to your hips and your fingers pointing forward. With your arms straight, push your butt forward and off the bench. Shrug your shoulders downs to lift yourself up slightly. Raise your shoulders to lower yourself back down. Continue shrugging yourself up and down for eight to twelve repetitions.
Poor posture needn’t be a fact of life – you CAN fix your posture! It’s taken years for you to develop bad posture and it will take a concerted effort to fix it but it will be worthwhile – you’ll feel better, look younger and have less pain if you do.