Monday, March 9, 2020

Is your posture ruining your day?

What is posture?

Posture is the body's position in space and time.  When we talk about posture as fitness professionals/therapists, we're generally referring to the position of the pelvis, spine and shoulders when standing, sitting or laying.  

When I training clients in the gym I will be looking at the most effective and safest posture for a paricular exercise or movement.

One thing to remember is, no one has a perfect posture, (in their adult life anyway).  You pretty much lose that, as soon as you start school and you sit your tiny little bums down for the first time, reducing the amount of fun/play time/freedom you had the day before.  

As soon as you're repeatedly stuck in the same position (like sitting on a daily basis), the body starts to adaptively shorten it's muscles, in a response to gravitational forces pushing down on us.

Different types of posture 

The 'sway back' (upper cross syndrome):  This is a pretty typical posture for most people (particular gym goers).  Here we can see a tightness of muscles in the hamstrings (back of thigh), lower back, neck, chest and upper Abs.  This posture can protrude the belly, giving the appearance of a paunch.  Gym goers tend to go crazy on the crunches here, in an effort to get rid of said paunch.  But doing so adds the tightness of the upper Abs, further pushing the hips forwards and amplifying the paunch.   More 'release work' is needed on the muscles in the red areas.

The 'duck back' (Hyper lordosis):  Predominantly a tightness in the the lower back, hip flexors (muscles used to bring the knee upwards-also attached to lower spine) and in the neck.    The hips tilt forwards here, so thigh muscles and hip flexors tend to be stronger than the butt (glutei) and hamstrings.  This can give the illusion that the hamstrings are 'tight', thus encouraging more strestching of the hamstrings.  However, the hamstring are actually taught under tension, where they are being pulled forwards by the over active quads and hip flexors.  (Think on a load on a pulley system. The load pulls the rope tight, same principle).  More release work out is required in the red areas.

The 'hunchback' (Hyper Kyphosis):  A common posture amongst sedentary workers, or desk bound duties (though not exclusively*).  If you look at the picture below can see the why the resulting posture occurs.  This can lead to lots of aches and pains in the lower back and neck.  
Other symptoms can be head aches, lack of energy and breathlessness, (due to the lungs not being able to fully expand and get plenty of oxygen in) and shortness of height.  

*I actually used to train a particularly tall lady (especially as a child), she was conscious of  this and with friends, she would hunch over to be at the same level and blend in.  Unfortunately this had a massive impact long term for her posture and confidence-bless her. 

A bad seating position that will lead to the hunch back amongst other symptoms.

Just one example of the Scoliosis condition

The 'crooked politician' (Scoliosis):  There are three main categories of scoliosis, Idiopathic, Congenital and Neuromuscular. 
Idiopathic means the cause is unknown, or there is no one main cause.
Congenital typically present itself at birth and detected early as a result.
Neuromuscular normally develops secondary to a neurological or muscular disease and tends to develop faster than the other types. 

Scoliosis comes in many forms, each with its own set of diagnostic criteria and specific age of onset. Because scoliosis is such as variable condition, it can be tricky to make an exact diagnosis and that can lead to difficulty determining the best course of treatment.

A quick way the determine whether you have functional or postural scoliosis, is to find a partner to watch your back as you lean forwards.  If the spine straightens as you lean forwards, then it's postural.  If remain curved then it's Idiopathic or functional.

The 'mirror muscles' posture:  The results of too much chest press, lat pull downs, shruggs and bicep work in the gym.  
Now there's nothing wrong with loading this muscles for appearance, but a balance of training should be maintained.  Anything you work on the front of the body (anterior chain), work on the back (posterior chain) too.  
Depending on your training split (programme and schedule), will depend on the you fit that in.  With my clients I normally do a front:back workout in that session, for example push & pull (chest and back, biceps and triceps etc...).

Posture effects mood and mood effects posture 

You can normally tell someones mood by their posture.  If they're feeling a bit down, their back will generally round, shoulders will roll forwards and the head will drop.  But someone's full of energy and/or excited about seeing you, their head will lift, they become tall and more open.  
So if you are feeling a little down, one the first and easiest things you can do is, raise the head 'chin up mate'.  Pull the shoulders back and stand/sit up straight.  It is only a minor adjustment, but at least it's a start. 

Is your posture causing you pain?

If you believe you environment is giving bad posture and pain, change it as soon as possible.  You may think it's a short term niggle, but back and body pain costs the economy a predicted $8 billion SGD per year, due to pack of productivity and time off work, so you're a business owner, bear that in mind.

Start with the basics;

  • Adjust your seating position at work
  • Take a walk every hour for 5 minutes just to move
  • Adjust your driving position 
  • Wear flat shoes, or lower heels 
  • Take your wallet out of your back pocket when sitting 
  • If you're already sedentary at work, reduce seated-machine based workouts/exercises 
  • Reduce the crunches and ab machines 

But DO-NOT-FEAR, if you do have a variation of any of these postures,  it's not a problem, unless you're having a problem.  The great thing about the body is it can adapt, so for instance the 'duck back' posture could be great for dancers and the hunch back could be good for boxers.  Even Usain Bolt has a scoliosis.

Before posting this, I even spoke with a physio at Ufit and he said 'if there's no pain and it's not seriously effecting performance, then it's ok'.  The thing to remember is, when the posture adapts to certain 'conditions' or environments, it mainly only 'reacts' when those conditions change.

If you really feel it's beyond that, you may need to see a physiotherapist, osteopath, or specialist for additional support (obviously I'd recommend the clinic at Ufit).  But with chronic back pain, the-worst-thing you can do is, stop moving.  Granted to start with you may not be able to move, but soon after symptoms relieve, get moving (SLOWLY and under control), even if it's just walking.

You're unfortunately going to have flare ups and there's rarely a way of getting rid of lower back pain permanently, as it turns into more pain management, (which obviously sucks when you're in pain for a long time).

If you'd like a little bit more help and advice on improving and strengthening your posture, let's have a chat and let's see if I can help, or at least help you find a specialist.

Keep it real folks



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