Wherever you are,
Whatever you’re doing right this second,
I want you to freeze.
Stop moving. No cheating!
Take notice of the position of your head, your neck, your shoulders, and your mid-back.
Now, focus on your low back, your butt bones, and your feet.
Okay. For the remainder of this blog, I want you to keep this position.
Don’t move or fidget around. I want you to notice how hard it actually is to keep this posture and how inefficient it is.
So, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal. Fine. I have bad posture, but so does everyone else at the office. I know it’s not good for me but really, what’s the big deal? How bad can poor posture actually be?”
I hear you.
The last thing I want to do is cause mass hysteria by exaggerating the effects poor posture can have on you. Besides, many of the adverse effects of poor posture are well-documented and, at some point or another, you’ve probably heard of a few of them. The main purpose of this post is NOT to convince you that poor posture is bad for your health. It’s to inform and better educate you on what happens within the body when we maintain poor posture for a prolonged period of time (over the course of several months and years!). That way, you can decide for yourself whether or not poor posture is something that’s worth correcting. I’ll wrap up the post with a thing or two you can do to help counteract some of the effects of poor posture. By the way, as a disclaimer, none of what I propose in this post should be taken as medical advice and should NOT replace a thorough examination by a licensed professional. The content of this post should be taken as general recommendations for the purpose of educating the general public 🙂
The body is a finely-tuned machine that, when functioning optimally, is highly efficient at conserving energy while maximizing production. And this makes sense evolutionary. The ones who survived were the ones who produced the most output while conserving as much energy as possible.
Posture is no exception.
Optimal posture is one in which the body is required to exert as little effort or energy to maintain. It is, by very definition, THE most efficient way for the body to maintain an upright position. In optimal posture, the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle should all line up pretty nicely.
Now, at this point, you might be getting the sudden urge to straighten out your posture but we promised at the beginning that you wouldn’t do that. We’re about half way through this, so hang in there. You’re doing great (and by great, I mean you’re doing terrible. Ugh! Look at that posture!)
One of the reasons why optimal posture is so efficient is that it evenly balances out the pull of gravity. In this position, the responsibility of keeping the body upright is evenly and appropriately distributed between contractile (muscles and fascia) and non-contractile (bones, ligaments, tendons, joints) structures of the body. This balance helps keep body tissue healthy and not overworked. It helps ensure that these structures are being used in a manner they were created for. When you use structures for their intended purpose, good things tend to happen!
Let’s be honest though. This isn’t ANY of us.
Okay… Maybe one or two of you but for 99.99999999% of us, we don’t look like this. We don’t live in perfect, optimal posture. And guess what? THAT’S A GREAT THING! While optimal posture is great and is important to have, it is NOT the end all be all. In fact, it is far more important for the body to be able to function in a variety of different positions and postures in a pain-free manner than to be able to stay in the same position all day every day, optimal or not. It isn’t necessarily “bad posture” that gets us into trouble; it’s the loss of movement variability that leads to injury. When our bodies lose the ability to adapt and adopt different postures, we tend to use patterns of movement that are less than ideal for a given task. So, technically speaking, there is nothing inherently wrong about “bad posture”. It’s when we get stuck there and live life in that position that we run into problems.
That all being said, let’s walk through what happens in the body when we sit at a desk all day.
Forward head posture (FHP). Yes, the bane of every office worker’s existence. Remember, with optimal posture, the pull of gravity is evenly balanced between contractile and non-contractile structures so that all involved tissues are evenly and appropriately stressed. FHP is a major deviation from this and leads to an imbalance that causes certain muscle groups to become shortened and over-active, while leaving others lengthened and weak. The body adapts to this new position and does what it needs to in order to compensate. As the body does this, it strengthens the muscles that are now over-active which furthers the imbalance between muscle groups. This leads to a snowball effect that is made worse by the fact that majority of us need to be at a desk for 8 hours or more a day. Before we know it, the body has adopted a new “normal” and now functions in this position for everything it does.
And we’re just talking about muscles.
The longer we stay in FHP, other parts of our body adapt too. Specifically, the cervical (neck region) and thoracic (rib cage) spine develop exaggerated curvatures in order to keep up with this new posture. Without getting too technical, the cervical spine typically develops much more extension than it should and the thoracic spine develops much more flexion than it should. Over time, these “plastic”, or temporary, changes become rigid and inflexible. With time, just as we saw with the muscles, the body adopts a new “normal” and now functions with both the cervical and thoracic spine in their non-optimal positions.
And, you guessed it, this is not a good thing.
Remember, my goal is NOT to exaggerate the adverse effects of bad posture but, just so we’re on the same page, here are some of the things that could result from prolonged FHP. And no, these are not rarities. In fact, if you constantly sit with FHP, you WILL develop one or more of the following:
- Cervicogenic headaches
- Shoulder impingement
- Low back pain
- Cervical radiculopathies
- TMJ dysfunction
- Early-onset osteoarthritis (cervical or thoracic spine)
The longer this position is maintained for, the more normalized it will become and the harder it will be to correct. And lest we forget that the entire body is connected to each other, FHP also has adverse effects on other regions of the body, possibly as far down as the foot!
As bad as all of this sounds, fortunately, there are a lot of things to help remedy this situation. So fear not all my FHP’er’s! If you’re willing to put in the work, we can get out of this! Here are a few things you can try at home or at work to get the ball rolling on improving your posture.
- Pectoralis Stretch
- Start with one arm in the position shown
- Slowly and gently lean your trunk forward, keeping your arm as stable as possible. Do this until you feel a gentle and comfortable stretch in your chest.
- For an added stretch, start rotating your trunk to the other side
- Hold for at least 30 seconds and slowly return to starting position.
- Levator Scapulae Stretch
- Start with your arms in the position shown
- Slowly and gently flex your head down towards your shoulder while keep your other arm fixed behind you. Do this until you feel a gentle and comfortable stretch in your neck.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds and slowly return to starting position.
- Supine Chin Tucks
- Start by lying down on a firm and comfortable surface with the back of your head fully supported (If you’re at work and you want to do this exercise, this can also be down in a seated position).
- Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you up towards the nearest wall. Think of growing you neck taller. Maintaining this cue, gently nod your chin down towards the floor. Be mindful that this is a SMALL MUSCLE CONTRACTION. If you’re head is lifting from the surface you’re lying on, you’re doing too much
- Try doing this 10 times for 10 second holds.
- Wall Angels
- Stand up against the wall so that your head, mid-back, pelvis, and feet are all touching it. If this is too hard, step a few inches away from the wall and try to get as much of your body against the wall as possible.
- Start with your arms against the wall so that your elbows, forearm, and hand are in contact with it.
- Slowly raise both arms up and out while maintaining contact with the wall at all times.
- Go as far as you can before breaking form and then return to starting position.
- Attempt 3 sets of 10 repetitions
- Proper Posture
- Place both feet firmly on the floor. Make sure your legs are bent to approximately 90 degrees
- Even out the weight through your pelvis so that you feel your weight evenly distributed between your left and right butt bones
- Think of elongating your entire trunk, all the way up to your neck, and bring your shoulder up, back, and down
- Hold this position for a full 2 minutes (or longer if you can) EVERY HOUR ON THE HOUR.
- While you will most likely revert back to whatever posture you were in, this at least helps to “reset” the body and helps prevent any lasting changes that could occur as a result of FHP
And there you have it folks! I hope this blog post was helpful. I am hopeful for the
results to come and, as always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at Michael@symbiopt.com or just come in and visit us at our clinic!
Cheers to learning and better posture! Happy Monday everyone!