No one has perfect posture. Yet there are many things that we can do to improve the way we stand, lie, walk and move in general. This can help improve health and safeguard against pain and serious injury.
We take a closer look with the help of our friends at Perfect Balance Clinic.
We first start to move our bodies while in the womb. After we are born we learn to lift our heads and crawl. Later we learn to stand and walk. As adults, we take the ability to control our posture for granted, that is until we no longer can do so effortlessly.
Our inherent ability to control our posture is dependent on our proprioceptive and exteroceptive systems, in other words the way in which we are aware of our body position, posture, and movement within our environment; proprioception allows us to control stability and balance by making anticipatory and compensatory postural adjustments.
The mechanisms involved in our control of posture are:
- Proprioception is the way in which we are aware of our body position, posture, and movement. It is an internal feedback system supported by proprioceptors located mainly within muscles, joints, fascia, and the inner ear and processed by the central nervous system (CNS).
- Exteroception refers to the way we experience the environment through our senses of hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell. These are processed by our CNS which integrates the response with our proprioception.
- Reflex movements are rapid responses to stimuli that occur without the involvement of the CNS. Proprioceptive reflexes usually are stimulated by changes in body position and motion while exteroceptive reflexes are stimulated by changes in the environment, for instance a loud sound.
Postural retraining is based on enhancing these mechanisms through various exercises and movements so that we re-learn how to better react with our environment and function with greater efficiency. Postural exercises usually focus on strengthening the core.
Pilates is primarily concerned with moving efficiently. Pilates will train you to develop your core strength, particularly the abdominal muscles, and the pelvic floor. When you support your posture using these, you will be able to relax your shoulders and freely move your neck and head. You will also relieve stress on your legs, hips, and feet.
Yoga is a form of exercise with a 5,000-year tradition that is directed on building strength, flexibility and improving breathing to improve physical and mental wellbeing. While there are many different forms of yoga, the primary components are movements that are designed for increasing increase strength and flexibility, in other words posture, and breathing.
Yoga originated in India and is now popular throughout the world. One of its many benefits is that it doesn’t require a high level of fitness to begin with; you can start yoga at any age. We have seen people of seventy and over take up yoga to great benefit, in fact yoga is suitable for any age group, from children to the elderly.
It is important, however, that you are instructed by a suitably qualified teacher who will adapt their approach to match your level of fitness and abilities and keep you free from injury.
There are many different types of yoga and many of them have exotic names such as Sivananda, Ashtanga, Bikram and Iyengar. Some are more energetic than others, and they may address different needs. For instance, Iyengar is alignment based yoga in which poses are held for significantly longer than most other forms and which is an excellent place to start for improving posture.
You will find many books and videos on yoga encouraging you to teach yourself yoga, but while there might be some benefits of this approach there are also significant dangers. When you teach yourself yoga there is always the danger that you will learn unhealthy techniques that won’t provide the benefits you are seeking, and may even result in injury. While you can copy the various postures, there are more subtle nuances to the various techniques that can only be learned from a good teacher.
Stretching is a physical exercise where a specific muscle or tendon is stretched or flexed to improve its elasticity and muscle tone, providing better muscle control, flexibility, motion range. Stretching is an innate activity that is performed by many different animals as well as humans, particularly after sleep or other long periods of inactivity. Typically, athletes use stretching exercises as part of their warm-up routines to reduce the chances of injury and improve performance.
Many scientific studied have demonstrated that stretching is particularly beneficial for posture realignment, for instance Hrysomallis (2001). We should caution however, that when performed incorrectly, stretching can be dangerous. Some forms of stretching can be at best ineffective and at worst can cause a range of injuries including tears, instability, hypermobility and even permanent damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Which is why you should only practice stretching under the guidance of a qualified coach or physiotherapist; certainly at least until you understand exactly what you are doing.
Strengthening your core is fundamental to achieving good posture. Essentially core strengthening concerns developing the necessary muscular control around the lumbar spine to maintain functional stability Akuthota (2004). Core strengthening is, in essence, a description of the muscular control required around the lumbar spine to maintain functional stability. Despite its widespread use, there is relatively little research around core strengthening.
Core strengthening has been promoted as a preventive regimen, as a form of rehabilitation, and as a performance-enhancing programme for various lumbar spine and musculoskeletal injuries. The intent of this review is to describe the available literature on core strengthening using a theoretical framework. Your core is the centre unit of your entire body. It stabilizes your spine, pelvis, ribs and shoulders, so it’s no surprise that the stronger your core is, the more stable your movements and the healthier you’ll be.
Posture is usually the first thing people notice about us. They usually say the posture of a confident person is different from those who lack confidence. This trend has changed in this day and age where technology has taken over and people are spending more time sitting at their desks.
Improving your posture
Posture is quite a complex matter and requires a deep thought process. It’s a complex mixture of external and internal factors relating to how you train your body and teach your mind to use certain muscles in a particular way. Posture requires a lot of mindfulness. Training your postural muscles helps send signals to the brain through the nervous system which in return helps improve your posture.
If we are holding ourselves up with excessive tension, this becomes an ingrained habit, and it feels right and normal and any attempt to change it feels strange and wrong. For example, if we are trying to improve our posture by standing up straight and pulling our shoulders back we are unlikely to succeed in improving our posture. Because we are still doing wrong things in the first place. We still have our old posture and tensions.
By doing this we are only adding tension on top of the tension we already have. Instead, we need to learn to change things from the inside rather than the outside. For this reason, postural analysis plays a very important part in the initial step towards improving posture.
Understanding your gravity line:
- External auditory meatus
- Then through the shoulder joint
- Approximately midway from trunk, going through the cervical and lumbar vertebras
- Through the greater trochanter of the femur
- Anterior to knee joint
- Anterior to lateral malleolus
When viewed from the front or back the vertical line passing through the body’s centre of gravity should bisect the body into two equal halves, with the bodyweight evenly distributed between the two feet.
Posture for different positions
Our posture in sitting, standing and lying for any lengths of time puts stress on the muscles, joints and ligaments. Good posture is particularly important if you cannot move or change your position easily by yourself, or if you are experiencing fatigue or muscle weakness.
A good posture uses less energy – whether this is maintained by your muscles or by sitting in a supportive chair. Your postural muscles work more efficiently if they are correctly aligned which means they can allow you to move more freely.
So, what does this mean in different positions?
- Keep chin tucked in
- Keep shoulders relaxed down and back
- Sit with a curve in your low back – this allows the pelvis to sit directly under the points of your shoulders so you sit on the bony points of your bottom
- Sit with your hips, knees and ankle at right angle, thighs level with knees Keep head in midline and on top of the shoulders
- Sit with your weight well distributed on your two bottom cheeks, well back in seat and feet flat on the floor
- Poke or just chin forward
- Hunch shoulders
- Sit with your spine in a “C” curve. This puts your back under strain
- Sit with your knees higher than your hips as the spine becomes ‘C’ shaped and the knees can easily fall to one side leading to a twisted pelvis.
- Hold your head forward of the shoulders to one side
- Sit your weight on one side of the bottom as it puts strain on your back
- Keep chin tucked in
- Keep shoulders relaxed down and back
- Keep head in midline and on top of and midline of your shoulders
- Keep your bottoms tucked in
- Keep your knees very slightly bent
- Keep your feet slightly apart, in line with your shoulders and weight equally distributed
- Poke or just chin forward
- Hunch shoulders
- Hold your head forward of the shoulders or to one side
- Stick your bottom out
- Push your knees back
- Stand with your weight more on one foot than the other. This causes your spine to curve to one side
When you are sitting or standing you are aiming to keep your “spine in line”. When lying down the role of the mattress and pillow plays a huge role in keeping your “spine in a straight line”
- When lying on your back try and lie symmetrically rather than with a twisted pelvis or with your legs to one side. If your legs don’t naturally stay straight when you are on your back, try pillows under your knees to keep them in line with your spine.
- Avoid too many pillows under your head when lying on your back or side. This can push your head up straining muscles and joints in your neck.
- Ideally your pillow should be under your head and shoulders, keeping your head in line with your spine. This will create the least amount of strain in your neck muscles.
Missed our introduction to posture. Take a look at the article here.
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With thanks to Perfect Balance Clinic.