Sunday, October 7, 2007

POSTURE

“Stand straight!” “Pull your shoulders back!” “Push out that chest” “Sit up”
When we were young we were told to have good posture. But, were we taught effective ways to proper posture? Do we know what it is now?

How many people do you know that have that “hunched-over” look?
Having an upper back that is rounded or shoulders drooping while the head is forward is not an attractive sight.

How many people do you know that constantly complain about stiff necks, headaches, and sore backs?

Poor posture is a common cause of both back and neck pain.

WHAT IS POSTURE?

Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. The earth exerts a pull on the body in a straight line toward the earth’s center. Good posture is a neutral alignment that occurs when body landmarks such as the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders are in line with the pull of gravity. The body is balanced front to back and side to side.

While standing, neutral alignment is when the pelvis is vertically aligned. If your pelvis was a bucket of water, no water would spill out to any side. With an anterior tilt of the pelvis (arched back), water spills out the front. With a posterior tilt (flat back) the water spills out the back.

Here’s some interesting information on posture:

Approximately 80% of the population will suffer from back pain in their life time.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.

Americans spend over $50 billion each year on back pain

Based on a UK Government study, one half work day is lost annually due to work-related musculo-skeletal absenses.

70% of people in offices suffer postural problems. An employees efficiency drops from 100% down to 94%.

Do you have a sore neck? Your head weighs approximately 3.5 kgs (8 pounds). If you are reading this at your computer your chin may move forward 6 cms adding another 1.5 kgs (3 lbs) for the muscles of your neck, shoulders and traps to support. That’s almost a 40% increase. Let untreated, the effect of chronic desk slump results in rounded shoulders or what physical therapists call upper-cross syndrome.

POOR POSTURE

When poor posture sets in, the bones are improperly aligned, the muscles, joints and ligaments or take on more stress than intended. Fatigue, muscle strain, compression of blood vessels and pain can result. Besides stiff necks and rounded shoulders, faulty posture can restrict your breathing, and tighten up the thighs, legs and ankles. Postural dysfunction can even affect the position and function of major organs and your leg length!

GOOD POSTURE

Good posture helps your body function at it’s best. Proper posture is also good prevention and good appearance, which contributes to an overall feeling of well-being.

Back – A healthy back has three natural curves that are in balanced alignment: (1) cervical curve - slight forward curve in the neck, (2) Thoracic curve – slight backward curve in the upper back, and (3) Lumbar Curve – slight forward curve in the low back.

Muscles – Strong and flexible muscles are essential to good posture. Abdominal, hip and leg muscles that are weak cannot support your back’s natural curves. Good posture prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.

Joints – Hip, knee, and ankle joint balance your back’s natural curves when you move making it possible to maintain good posture in any position.

HOW TO CHECK YOUR POSTURE

Do you have poor posture?

One of the areas that I look at when doing a fitness assessment is posture. Proper posture includes good muscle flexibility, normal motion in the joints, strong postural muscles, muscle balance on both sides of the spine and awareness of your own posture.

Here’s a couple of simple ways to check your own posture:

Have someone take a picture of you from the side. Wearing minimal clothing (like a bathing suit) stand as you would normal - tall but relaxed. Check to see if the middle of your ear is in line with the middle of your shoulder, hip, and ankle. If you can't draw a straight line through these points, then your posture needs improving.

Using a mirror, align your ears, shoulder, and hips. Proper alignment places your ears loosely above your shoulders, above your hips. Again, these points make a straight line, but the spine itself curves in a slight 'S

HOW TO FIX POOR POSTURE.

A long day at the office or a lengthy drive in the car can tax our abilities to maintain a healthy posture. Lack of movement causes shortening of the hamstrings, glutes (butt), and lower back muscles.

Standing, sitting or moving, your bones and muscles complement one another, acting in unison to form the musculoskeletal system. There are 206 bones and over 600 muscles that all interrelate with each other.

Posture can only be corrected if you are aware of your posture compared to “good” posture.

First, let’s look at some of the causes of poor posture:

-Obesity
-Pegnancy
-Weak or tight msucles
-High heeled shoes
-Sitting on top of your wallet
-Sitting at a computer for long periods.
-Poor work environment.
-Lack of abdominal strength.
-Unconsciously standing or sitting improperly.

TIPS FOR MAINTAINING GOOD POSTURE

Poor posture can be changed consciously with strengthening, stretching and posture checks throughout the day. Good body alignment and flexibility is important.

-Concentrate on keeping your three natural back curves in balanced alignment.

-Avoid staying in one position for long periods of time.
-Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
-Sleep on a firm mattress. Avoid oversized pillows.
-Avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest.
-Exercise regularly. Incorporate functional strength training and core training.
-Warm up and stretch before physical activity.
-Use proper body mechanics – bend your knees when picking something up or carry heavy objects in two hands close to your waist and don’t twist when lifting..
-Wear comfortable, low-heeled, well-supported shoes.
-Quit smoking. Smoking impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to spinal tissues.
-Walk with good posture. Head erect, chin parallel to the ground.
-Try Yoga or pilates.
-At work, take time to stand upright and retract your scapula (squeeze your shoulder blades together) regularly.

CONCLUSION

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has stipulated that despite the changes that occur naturally with aging, good posture can be maintained and poor posture improved.

To have good posture it is essential that your back, muscles and joints be in tip-top shape.
Posture can only be corrected if you are aware of YOUR posture and what is “good” posture.

Poor posture comes in many unattractive styles, all of which distorts the body’s proper vertical alignment and the back’s natural curves. If you have poor posture, it is recommended that you complete a postural evaluation from a physical therapist who can identify your particular problem and give you suggestions for correction that can then be incorporated into your fitness program. We all know that you have a fitness program right?

A great benefit of keeping your head straight, and your ears/shoulders/hips aligned is the improvement in your looks and attitude. You will appear more confident and your self-esteem and attitude will improve!