You heard me correctly; posture can really make or break your everyday life and your athletic endeavors. We all know that slouching is not ideal but did you know that standing up too straight and too rigidly can be just as detrimental as slouching? As with most things in life, moderation is the key. "Perfect posture" doesn't exist but optimal posture for you does. Having optimal posture is important to help decrease overuse injuries and pain.
Posture is fluid. It changes when we sit, stand, walk or run. Our bodies are meant to have several motor patterns available to us so that we can squat, kneel, lift and jump. Each type of movement available, static or dynamic has a neutral position that may be optimal for breathing, alignment of joints, ligaments, tendons, range of motion, muscle activity, and gravity.
What happens when our posture is not optimal?
Muscles become tight & stiff
Muscles become inhibited or weak
Range of Motion is decreased
Increased load of gravity on our joints & ligaments
What are the benefits optimal posture important?
Can improve pain
Maintains natural curves of our spine
Helps maintains range of motion
Decreases the stress and strain of gravity, daily tasks and exercise
Allows muscle to fire appropriately
A typical example of non-optimal posture is when we sit at a computer all day with our chins out, shoulders rounded and spine flexed. This particular position can set us up for injury in the long run; we are allowing our chest muscles to get shortened and tight, deep supportive muscles to become inhibited, our joints and ligaments to endure too much load and our throat to close so that we cannot properly breath. No wonder neck pain and headaches are so common in our culture!
What if you don't you don't sit for a living or have a stand up desk? You likely hear the voice in your head saying, "Stand up straight, don't slouch." What do you immediately do? Pull back your shoulders as far back as possible, stick out your chest and suck in your abdominals? This is obviously good posture right? Wrong again.
Sticking out your chest and pulling your shoulders back aggressively can cause increased load on the TL junction- the transitional area between your middle and lower back or your lumbar spine. It can cause your rib cage to tip anteriorly decreasing your ability to utilize your deep core musculature or breath efficiently. It can also be a factor in inhibition of your gluteal muscles. Pulling you abdominals in hinders your breathing pattern, impairs your deep core stability, effects pelvic floor function and may even lead to stress incontinence.
Add insult to injury many of us lace up our running shoes, hop on a bike, jump in the pool or grab our clubs after a long day of sitting with our feet up, standing with our chest out or slouching over in our chair. Our body hasn't forgotten the poor motor pattern we have reinforced over the last 8-10 hours. Instead our brain continues to function in that flexed or over extended posture when we try to run or swing the club.
What is optimal posture?
Let's first assess how you are doing.
If you are sitting, reading this on your computer where is the top of the computer screen? are you looking up? down? are you turned to the left or right?
Where are you sitting? Are you feet touching the ground? are you all the way back in your seat or sitting on the edge of the chair? are you leaning on your hand trying not to fall asleep?
If you are like mostI am sure you were doing some if not all of the above.
Suggestions for Optimal Sitting posture:
Sit with your knees slightly below your hips. You may have to tilt your seat or sit on a wedge.
Most people should sit all the way back in their chair so their back is supported, however in some cases it is better to sit on the edge of the chair (ex. hip labral tear)
Keep your eyes level with the top of your computer screen and have it in front of you. If you have 2 screens turn your body towards the screen you are looking at rather than just your head.
You may need support in your lumbar spine OR near the middle of the back near the bra strap to keep your rib cage stacked over your pelvis
Keep your feet supported on a stool or flat on the floor
Stand up. Where is the weight on your feet? the toes? Heels? ball of the foot?
Where are your shoulders, arms and chest?
Felling self conscious yet?
Suggestions for Optimal Standing posture:
Shift your weight so that it is equally distributed on your foot
Lean forward slightly. If you are doing this right you may feel like you are leaning forward slightly. Look in the mirror you probably don't like like you are leaning as far forward as you feel
Take your fist and place it nearly the adams apple then bring your chin down to meet it- that is wear your chin should be. It is likely it was much higher
Relax your shoulders and arms. You can slightly depress the shoulder blades but don't pull them back. Keep your arms relaxed at your side.
Lastly don't suck in your abdominals- just breath. Breath into your diaphragm and rib cage
What else can we do to improve our posture?
Be mindful. The more often you catch yourself in "non optimal positions" the more likely you will be to break the cycle.
Strengthen your hips, shoulders, back and abdominals. You can do this on your own or take a Pilates or Yoga class.
Set yourself up for success. Make sure you car, desk and most comfortable chair in the house allow you to sit with optimal posture. Set them up once so you don't have to think about it every day. ]
Get a wellness check with a physical therapist. They can give you personalized tips for your body and situation!
Invest in your future now! Getting a handle on your posture today will benefit you for years to come. You will be more likely to maintain your range of motion, have less pain and live a more active lifestyle. Don’t implement everything all at once; start small such as adjusting changes in your workspace to ensure your success.