Posture: How it Affects Us and How to Improve It!
Growing up, I heard “sit up straight” and “quit slouching” more times than I could count. Of course, when I was a kid, I would just roll my eyes. As soon as my mom left the room, I was back to whatever position I wanted to be in. As an adult, I know the importance of posture, what it can do to or for your body, how it can influence your mind, and how to help others correct their posture.
Proper standing, walking, and sitting, of course, are very important, but there are so many aspects of posture that are not common knowledge. Movement, for instance, is a topic that is covered less in discussions on posture. Physical issues that prevent proper posture and different techniques to help correct them are also discussed less than, say, ergonomics. We will discuss all of these issues and much more in this article.
Importance of Proper Posture
Posture can tell you quite a lot about the inner workings of a person’s mind and body mechanics. Living things relay information about their health status by way of their form/posture/structure in many different ways. You can see this in common natural occurrences, like in house plants that aren’t getting enough sun or water, or in captive orcas whose dorsal fins have slumped over.
When you go on vacation and forget to get a plant sitter, you can instantly notice when you arrive home that your plants need some TLC. The leaves droop and may be discolored. My palms perk up instantly when I water them!
Orcas dorsal fins stay strong in the wild because they swim at high speeds over vast distances. In captivity, the dorsal fin weakens due to lack of deep dives and long distance travel. The fins atrophy and fall. This is also attributed to poor health.
Posture in humans can be a similar indicator of poor health, physically and mentally, and at the very least, it shows us that there is something wrong that will eventually cause a health issue.
One similar issue we are seeing as a growing concern in our modern lives is Forward Head Posture, caused by increased computer work and texting. We are engaging in activities that are causing us to look down more and more. Forward Head Posture is discussed further later in this article, but it is important to practice proper ergonomics, as they are extremely important when working on computers or at a desk as a way to combat this postural issue.
Issues that can occur due to Bad Posture
Bad posture isn’t necessarily 'just a bad habit'. Although it can be as a result of a bad habit, it can also be a result of physical issues such as tight muscles or lack of muscle strength. Increase flexibility and strength, including core strength, to improve your posture. Balance specific workouts are a huge help! So is Massage Therapy. A trained Massage Therapist is extremely helpful in loosening tight muscles. Read more about Self Care and the Benefits of Massage Therapy Here!
Inflexible muscles that decrease range of motion (how far a joint can move in any direction) can be a huge instigator of poor posture. For example, overly tight, shortened hip muscles tug your upper body forward and disrupt your posture. Overly tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward.
Muscle strength affects balance, and balance affects posture, in a number of ways. The "core muscles" of the back, side, pelvis, and buttocks form a sturdy central link between your upper and lower body. Weak core muscles encourage slumping, which tips your body forward and thus off balance. Strong lower leg muscles also help keep you steady when standing.
The list off issues that poor posture can cause is daunting. Here are some other issues that can be a DIRECT cause of improper posture:
-carpal tunnel syndrome
-decreased lung capacity
-decreased quality of life
-increased blood pressure
-shortened life span
-temporomandibular joint disorder
Improving your posture can reduce these symptoms and disorders, giving you a better quality of life, and ultimately a longer lifespan.
Ergonomics: What does proper posture look like?
Walking and Standing Posture
-Keep your chin parallel to the floor.
-Your shoulders should be even (roll your shoulders up, back, and down to help achieve this).
-Keep a neutral spine (no flexing or arching to overemphasize the curve in your lower back).
-Your arms should be at your sides with elbows straight and even.
-Abdominal muscles should be braced, supporting your spine evenly.
-Your hips should be even.
-Your knees should be even and pointing straight ahead.
-Your body weight should be evenly distributed on both feet.
Sitting Posture (in a chair)
-When sitting down, keep your chin parallel to the floor.
-Your shoulders, hips, and knees should be at even heights.
-Your knees and feet should be pointing straight ahead.
-Your feet should be flat on the ground.
-Even weight should be placed on both of your hips.
-Your back should be mostly straight (you’ll have natural curves in your lumbar, thoracic, and cervical areas).
-Your shoulders should be back but relaxed and your ears should line up over your collarbones.
What to do at home to improve your posture and assist in correcting certain ailments
Do back bends to help reduce low back pain and strengthen your back. Slouching due to sitting or standing for extended periods of time can be havoc for your lower back. It puts pressure on intervertebral discs, facet points, ligaments and muscles. Bridges and back bends will help strengthen muscles in the abdomen and your gluteal muscles so that your body will rely more on them and this will help correct slouching postures.
Stretch your neck muscles to reduce headaches. Poor posture often results in tension headaches. Doing neck stretching exercises can assist in correcting posture and reducing tension. Stretch your neck by moving your head from side to side, front to back, and pull your chin back, like you are making a double chin.
Twist your Torso from side to side to increase your energy levels. This will strengthen your oblique muscles and allow the correct muscles to be engaged while you are sitting or standing. When these muscles are strong enough to activate during sitting or standing, you will be less fatigued as a result. These muscles will also hold your spine in proper alignment when they are strong. If you do this exercise every day for a week, you will start to see improvement in energy levels and less fatigue for your postural muscles.
Do hip flexor stretches to reduce risk of abnormal wearing of joint surfaces. These exercises will strengthen your core and your back and will cause more even wear on all surfaces of the body. Sitting or standing improperly will cause one area of your body to wear while the opposite may atrophy. Movement and strengthening exercises will lessen these effects.
Do a chest stretch to help increase your lung capacity and improve your posture. Clasp your hands together behind your back and stretch by expanding your chest and pushing your hands back. Breathe in deep. This will help with slouching and will allow your lungs to more fully expand.
Use a foam roller to improve circulation and digestion. Improper posture can compress vital organs. Using a foam roller can help you stretch out and loosen muscles. It can also help stimulate better circulation to those vital organs. Proper alignment is very important for proper blood flow throughout the body.
It is really important to use proper form during your workouts. If you are having issues with this, try taking a yoga class that focuses on proper form. Great Instructors will know how to help you correct your form, and this will be important as you perform your other exercises. Holding proper form during activities will improve your posture and will also reduce your risk of injury. If you have any questions for us or need recommendations on how to use proper form, contact us here!
Balance and Posture
Posture has quite a lot to do with your ability to balance. Balance is imperative in enhancing performance and avoiding falls. Improving your balance can be an arduous task, and can be helped with Massage Therapy. The inner ear and pons have a lot to do with bad balance if they are not in alignment, and the head/neck connection and alignment are very important for posture and ergonomic soundness.
If your Massage Therapist is able to align your head and neck, it could alleviate your inner ear issues and improve your posture. If you would like to help yourself improve your balance at home, you could bounce on a mini-trampoline, walk on uneven surfaces, or use balance pads or wobble boards.
Movement and Posture
The dictionary defines movement as a change of place or position or posture. Most of us know this, if we think about it. Did you know, though, that lymph flow and synovial fluid depend on movement? Synovial fluid surrounds all of our freely moving joints, and the production of this fluid is dependent on the movement of those joints. The different pressures that are created when we move in certain ways, like during walking, are what initiates the flow of lymph in our bodies. You’ve probably heard that things in motion tend to stay in motion? This is true for these systems. Without movement, our bodies become stiff and rigid. Ease of movement depends heavily on the continuation of movement.
There is a saying in Ancient Eastern philosophy, “Movement is life. Stagnation is death.” This highlights the importance of movement, and when dealing with posture, this is absolutely true. People who have postural issues can almost unanimously benefit from standing up, walking, stretching, running, doing yoga, breathing, moving in any way.
How we hold ourselves, our posture, is important for proper body function in this way, but it is also responsible for the social, emotional, and psychological reasons as well.
In Sports Medicine, there is a term called the SAID principle, Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. What this is saying is that the body will physically adapt to stress. If stressors are present, the body will develop a way to handle that stressor, whether it is good or bad.
Have you ever seen a professional arm wrestler? One side of their body can look completely different than the other because their one arm is trained to handle massive amounts of strain and requires a huge amount of strength to be able to handle the pressures imposed on it during the sport. This is an extreme example of this principle.
The body will get better at doing whatever it is regularly exposed to. If you sit at a desk with poor posture, your body will adapt. If you exercise improperly, with poor form, your body will adapt. On the contrary, if you change your form and concentrate on practicing proper ergonomics, your body will adapt as well, and you can correct your posture in this way.
We discussed above how poor posture can be the result of tissue issues or physical damage, and how this can be corrected early. If this damage goes unaddressed, though, more permanent, lasting damage can become an issue. Tension, trauma, or overuse injuries can become long term and more solidified, and the brain will start to identify this as a functional weakness.
One of the seven areas of the brain responsible for posture is called the Pontomedullary Reticular Formation (PMFR) It is located in the brain stem where the pons meets the medulla, and is considered the epicenter for postural control. The American Postural Institute calls it the powerhouse of posture.
There are eight cranial nerves that are responsible for vital sensory and motor functions, and are housed in the PMFR. These nerves are integral in stabilizing a balanced gait and the balance and corrective actions of the head. PMFR weakness results in strain during front-to-back and side-to-side movement of the head and in distinct postural issues most commonly noticed as slumping.
The shoulders are down and forward and the chin is jutted out and forward. This causes connective tissue and joint problems in the myoskeletal framework. Massage Therapists know which stretches and other techniques to apply in order to intervene with these postural issues and assist in helping you fix your posture.
There was a brief mention of Forward Head Posture earlier. Some further discussion in this section shows another example of how a small occasional change in posture can become more permanent and cause lasting damage. Forward Head Posture and what used to be referred to as Scholar’s Neck, which occurred in many people who spend a lifetime reading books and studying, have similar effects on the body.
The condition, Scholar’s Neck, has become much more prevalent due to early use of cell phones and tablets, and is now referred to as Text Neck. The age of people who have this postural condition is also presenting as younger and younger as the years go on.
When held in proper posture, the average adult human head weighs approximately 12 pounds. Functional weight refers to the ‘real-feel’ or the fact that the head gains 10 pounds in weight for every inch forward it rests out of healthy postural position. This means that if your head is being carried 2 inches forward from where it is supposed to rest, the weight load your neck and supporting structures are carrying is 32 pounds.
All of the muscles that are involved in supporting the head are carrying a heavier load. All of the connective tissue is strained much harder, and range of motion will be limited as a result. Eventually, that long list of issues above will pop up, one by one if this issue isn’t resolved. The more significant the postural shift is, the more dysfunctional the body will be.
Think of the muscles and connective tissues throughout the body as connected, which they are, imagine them as a train, each car connected by a small chain connector. Running down the track is a normality, and normal strain can be dealt with for the train to properly move down the track. Now imagine a bridge is broken and the first part of the train is dangling while the rest is on the track. There is enormous strain on the connection piece and the strain is increased throughout the other cars as well. For every extra car that is dangling from the bridge, the strain would be increased exponentially.
This is similar to the strain put on the body for each inch that your head is tilted forward on your neck. When an adult person is staring directly down at their phone, the functional weight of the head could be increased to as much as 60 pounds. That consistent forward position of the head can cause tension of muscles and tissues and can cause issues with overall functionality of the body. Massage Therapy can help work out that tension and restore some normalcy to muscle and tissue. Corrective action must also be taken, though, to improve overall quality and performance of the body.
There are some things you can do at home to help correct your Forward Head Posture.
1. Stretch your neck in a specific way. Start with your shoulders rolled back and down. Sit straight in a chair or stand against a wall. Tuck your chin in and stretch from your chin to the back of your neck. Imagine a string moving from the tip of your chin through the back of your neck.
2. Set up your work space ergonomically (see section above for specifics).
3. Sleep on a cervical pillow.
Mind and Posture
Body Language and Posture are an indicator to ourselves and to others of many different things. Studies have been showing that the link between the way we sit, stand and walk not only create an impression on the people around us, but these postures actually affect our brains and moods.
In 2003, a study done at Ohio State University actually showed a direct correlation between posture and how it can subconsciously change our opinions on certain things. During the study, participants were interviewed before and after an event where, while they were having different phenomena explained to them, they were to nod or shake their heads.
The study showed that those that were nodding were more likely to agree with the statements while those that were shaking their heads were more likely to disagree. During the same study, it was found that participants who hugged themselves were more likely to feel a reduction in physical chronic pain. Both of these findings show that what we do, physically, has an impact on what we feel and think.
Erik Peper, a Dutch behavioral scientist has found that standing up straight tends to correlate with positive thoughts or remember positive memories in ones’ life. During his classes, he has participants stand up and stretch their arms upward to keep positive momentum going. He has also found that skipping down the sidewalk or hall boosts energy exponentially versus a slow and slumped walk.
Researchers from Harvard and Columbia have recently been studying the way that posture influences your decision making. By interviewing people who were sitting in expansive poses, power poses, and constrictive poses, they have been finding that power poses indicate a more calm and confident demeanor that results in 45% less chance of dangerous and risky decisions. Saliva tests done on the participants showed that those in expansive poses had hormonal changes that resulted in less cortisol and more testosterone.
Studies have not proven that bad posture causes depression and anxiety, but they have shown that in people who already have symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor posture worsens those symptoms. Studies have also shown that whether you have depression and anxiety or not, improvement of your posture will contribute to your overall health and happiness.
Research has shown a direct correlation between poor posture and fatigue, especially in those people who are depressed or anxious. Research has also shown that improving your posture is directly related to happiness, energy and confidence. You are also likely to be less guarded in your social interactions, which boosts your confidence further, and makes others around you more comfortable.
How Massage helps Improve Posture
Trained Massage Therapists are beneficial in correcting posture in many ways. Physical issues with posture are absolutely helped by the degree to which Massage Therapists are able to help stretch and loosen muscle tissue.
They are able to point out the ways in which a client is exhibiting improper posture, even when that client may not know this is happening. Massage Therapists are adept at shifting clients’ body awareness.
They can also engage tissues with specialized techniques that will help trick the nervous system into new communication patterns. Altering the position of the body can change the way that certain muscles respond. To read more about how Massage Therapy and Sports Massage can help loosen and engage tissues, click here!
ABMP Massage & Bodywork Magazine, “The Posture Window: Using Posture to Guide Assessment and Treatment” by Yoni Whitten, DC
ABMP Massage & Bodywork Magazine, “Postural Plasticity: Brain Stem Activation for Upper-Crossed Syndrome” by Erik Dalton, PhD
ABMP Massage & Bodywork Magazine, The Posture Movement: How Movement and Posture Extend Beyond the Physical” by Allison Denney