As a Chiropractor, I tend to always analyze people’s posture. At the grocery store, walking down the street, my friends, everywhere. And I’ll even mention it to my boyfriend, “Hey look at how bad that person’s posture is, I wish I could help them.” If you start looking, you will see that we have an epidemic of slouchers and sitters on our hands in the US. The habit, in my opinion, is really a result of not teaching our youth the importance of posture, either standing or sitting.
One thing I noticed in my travels to India was that everyone had wonderful posture. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Chiropractor’s dream come true. Even the children would stand tall and sit up straight. It seemed to me that the training had started early. In Indian culture, it is taught that a straight spine is important for spiritual development. The energy known as Kundalini resides at the base of our spines, and with those who practice, it can be raised up through the chakras (or energy centers) up to the top of our heads to reach enlightenment. The easiest way for this to be accomplished is with a straight spine. So the training starts early for the Indian children.
In addition to decreased energy flow, poor posture alters our physical bodies by changing the biomechanics of our joints and musculature. This malpositioning eventually leads to instability of joints, which can predispose us to pain, decreased range of motion, and possibly tearing of muscles, tendons, or ligaments. If our joints become injured, the chronic inflammation can lead to degeneration or arthritis.
So why do we slouch? It is suggested that children can slouch because of a lack of self-confidence. I have heard others say their height was a concern. And then there is the amount of sitting that we do, and the amount of poor seating choices. Think of the typical job. Working from 9 until 5 in front of a computer. Even school poses a sitting crisis as students are trapped in their desks for most of the day. The typical seat is uncomfortable, making us lean this way or that in strange positions. The back rest allows us to slouch so that our low backs are rounded and our shoulders and necks jut forward. The perfect example is a car or plane seat. Posture nightmare.
There are 2 main postural issues that I look at as a Chiropractor. Upper cross syndrome and lower cross syndrome. And much of the time they co-exist. Let me explain.
1. Upper cross syndrome is a postural presentation where the head is jutted forward, which is called anterior head carriage, and the shoulders are rolled or protracted. The deep neck flexors, rhomboids, and lower trapezius muscles become weak. The suboccipitals and pectoral muscles become tight and shortened. As you can see below, it forms a cross.
This presentation can be regularly seen in those who sit at computers all day. (I have also seen a lot of this in the fight community, as fighters bring their shoulders up and round their back to protect themselves from their opponents.) You will also noticed an increase curve (kyphosis) in the mid back region. Upper cross syndrome can manifest headaches, neck pain, shoulder and arm pain, and upper back pain. Over time this can lead to damage of tissues and instability of neck and shoulder joints.
Now, how to fix Upper Cross Syndrome. The first thing I address is changing the length of the shortened, tight muscles. If you’re seeing a Chiropractor (or other physical manipulation practitioner), they may ‘strip’ your muscles or use a technique called ART (Active Release Technique) to remove scar tissue buildup within the muscle. Scar tissue will build up when our muscles become shorter than they are supposed to be. On your own, stretching can be a very important tool. Stretch the pectoral muscles muscles as shown below.
I have found that one of the best ways to release the suboccipital muscles, after having a Chiro do it for you, is to lie face up on a bed and allow your head to hang backwards off the edge. This helps to return the curve of the neck to a proper position and the muscles can relax. Whenever I have been sitting on the computer for too long, I will hang my head for 5-10 minutes (whatever I can manage).
The next thing to address is the weak musculature in this presentation. First and foremost, we need to strengthen the back! My favorite exercise to teach people are T’s and Y’s! This strengthens the rhomboids and lower traps, which provide so much support for our necks. I usually start out with 3 sets of 10 and gauge the current strength level to adjust.
Strengthening the deep neck flexors are a tricky move, and I don’t suggest doing it without having someone who knows what they are doing helping you. It is easy to do the exercise improperly, so look carefully at the following pictures.
2. Lower cross syndrome is a posture presentation where there is an increase in the lumbar curvature and anterior (or forward) tilt of the pelvis. The abdominals and gluteus maximus muscles will be weak. The thoracolumbar extensors and hip flexors will be tight and shortened. Again you can see it forms a cross, how catchy 😉
Now to fix this postural problem… Once again, I suggest starting with the tight musculature. First off is the hip flexors, as they can cause many lower back problems (they attach directly onto lumbar vertebrae). I find that having ART done on these muscles is extremely helpful, so find someone! And you should also perform the lunge stretch below (the standing hip flexor stretch can be complicated for some people to actually get, so I suggest this one).
The other tight musculature in this cross are the lumbar extensors. For these muscles I find it particularly helpful to hang upside down. I like to do it on the Roman Chair at the gym.
Child’s pose is also helpful.
Next up… strengthen! Squat (benefits of squats article) squat squat for your butt (butt exercises article). I can not think of a better exercise for your gluts (except maybe lunges). See how to do a correct squat below.
There are about 10 million exercises for your abdominals, so it’ll be easy for you to choose a few. Just make sure to exercise your obliques and your transverse abdominus. The obliques are responsible for stabilizing your torso during rotation, so rotational movements like wood chops are a popular exercise. Your transverse abdominus is a stabilizing muscle for your internal organs, so there’s that. Everyone likes their organs in place 🙂
Other Posture Recommendations!
1. Sit less! Well that was easy, huh. But seriously, if you sit at work make sure you stand up and walk around once every hour. When you are up, do the exercise and stretches I recommend above. With some effort, you can counteract the effects of the sitting right on the spot.
2. Get a stand up desk. More and more people are doing it. And I am recommending it more and more. The effects of sitting are just not worth it. Get a desk that the legs raise up and you can comfortably work on your computer without straining. Here are some options.
Better yet, convince your workplace to spring for the new ergonomic desks. Less pain and injuries equals less time out of work and more happy employees. It’s a win win. Duh.
3. Get a kneeling chair. These types of chairs will help bring your hips into better alignment and therefore your upper spine as well. You could even go for a less pricey option with a swiss ball chair. FYI some of these types of chairs come with a back rest, however I would advice against that since if you lean back to use said rest, your back will start to curve in the wrong direction. Yikes.
4. Get a posture shirt! The absolute go to when it comes to posture shirts are Intelliskin. The shirt is made in a way that will cue the correct muscles to fire, giving you a reminder to keep your posture in check. Check out their line below! Note: the link below is an affiliate link. As I’ve mentioned before, I only join affiliate programs for products I wholeheartedly endorse, and this is one of them! You can also get Kinesiotaped by a Chiro (like myself) or other practitioner to cue your posture. (This is temporary as the tape only sticks for so long.)
5. DO the stretches and exercises above silly! Take responsibility for your posture! If you set out to correct it, you can achieve it!
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