Okay, sweet friends, we need to talk about POSTURE. Posture at your desk, posture when you’re standing, posture at the gym… it’s all important. Having good posture not only looks better and makes you appear more confident, it also will help alleviate pain, and prevent musculoskeletal problems (weakness, tightness, discomfort, etc.) in the future.
Teenagers and gym-goers appear to me to be some of the worst offenders. Young kids are always hunched over staring at their phones and other electronics. Now, gym-goers, you would imagine, would have better posture. Unfortunately, from what I see, this is very seldom the case. Many people at the gym are so focused on lifting as much weight as they can, that they forget technique and form; their head is protruding forward, their back might be arched or curved, and their shoulders completely hunched forward. You can be lifting 1000 lbs over your head but if you’re posture is poor, you’re at risk of injury and permanent damage and you might not even be training the muscles that you want to very effectively.
Because your spine is connected to your arms, your pelvis, your legs, any postural deviation can cause a number of problems, not only in your spine, but in your extremities as well. For example: thoracic outlet syndrome (may result in numbness and tingling down your arms), impingement syndrome (may result in shoulder pain when reaching overhead), increased risk of spinal disk herniation, pelvic and sacroiliac joint dysfunction, sciatica (a term I don’t like to use, to be honest, but that’s another blog post), and can cause effects all the way down to how your ankle and foot moves. The possible effects are endless. The take away from this paragraph: everything in the body is connected, and a problem in one region can cause dysfunction and pain in another.
In standing, when you have proper posture, your ears should be in line over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your ankles. Common postural deviations include
- Forward head
- Rounded shoulders
- Increased thoracic kyphosis (“hunchback”)
- Increased lumbar lordosis (“duck back”)
- Decreased lumbar lordosis (“flat back” or “sway back”)
When sitting, at a desk for example, you should be sitting up tall against the back of your seat; you may benefit from rolling up a towel, pillow case, or shirt, and placing it at the small (arch) in your back for lumbar support. Your head should be back so that your ear is over your shoulder. For computer use, the computer screen should be at the height of your eyes so that you don’t have to look up or down. When using a keyboard, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle so that you’re not shrugging your shoulders up or hunching over to type. This information is especially important is your job requires sitting at a desk all day. Labor intensive jobs are the only workplaces where you can get injured, you can get chronic pain and disability from purely sitting at a desk. So stay aware of your posture, even while staring at a screen.
Common postural deviations I see at the gym are the same as common standing postural deviations but they tend to get exaggerated when someone is putting in all their effort to lift and strength train. Important tips for ensuring good posture while lifting:
- Brace your core – tighten your abdominals so that your belly button is pulled in
- Brace your neck – this sounds funny but it is similar to bracing your core, simply pull your chin back (not up – this is commonly what people do) so that your ears are in line with your shoulders.
See more on walking and running posture in the pictures below:
Posture, like many things, is a habit. What is considered “good posture” may feel uncomfortable or “wrong” at first because it is not what your body is used to. However, the more you practice proper posture, the easier it will come, and eventually will come much more unconsciously and natural to you. Yoga and tai chi are great forms of exercise to help with posture. If those aren’t activities that you’re interested in, I have attached some postural strengthening exercises in the link below to aid in your struggle with posture. Do these a couple times a day or throughout your work-day to not only cue you to have good posture but also strengthen your postural muscles, which will make it easier to stand tall and confident against chronic pain.
Hope this was helpful! Stand tall and carry on, sweet friends!