Has your mother ever told you to stand up straight when you were little over and over again? If you haven’t, you may want to start listening to her. I want to talk about posture because it can have a great impact on your daily life. Posture is very essential to function, and having good posture can prevent any unwanted pain in your neck, back, arms, legs, and feet. Here’s a picture of what good posture looks like below.
Good posture is characterized by standing as tall as you can with your shoulders aligned with your hips, and your ears aligned with your shoulders. This places the spine in a neutral position and in the least amount of stress. If you think your posture looks like this, then you’re off to a great start!
If your posture doesn’t look like the picture above, and more like the ones below, then I want to take a moment to talk about how poor posture can lead to problems in function, and pain.
In the pictures above, both figures have what we call forward head, and rounded shoulders. When this happens, the upper part of your back becomes more curved, making it more difficult to reach your arms over your head and looking up to the ceiling. It also makes your neck work harder to keep your head upright, which can lead to neck pain. Poor posture also displaces your center of mass more forward, making it harder for you to balance and walk, which can ultimately lead to falls.
So what can we do to prevent or cause further progression of poor posture?
When you have rounded shoulders and a forward head, the muscles in your upper back become stretched out over time, and ultimately become weak, while the muscles in the front of your chest become tight. So the key is to strengthen what we call your “postural muscles,” meaning your upper back, while lengthening your chest muscles. Unfortunately, many of us are constrained to our desks every day for many hours due to our jobs, meaning catching ourselves slouching can happen often, meaning these muscles are weakened instead of strengthened. Additionally, below are some exercises aiming to relieve a bad posture and strengthen the necessary muscle groups, for other exercise tips regarding your upper body and shoulders.
Here are a few exercises to get started on:
Theraband Rows – Hold the tubing handles in each hand, your forearm parallel to the ground. With the elbows slightly in front of your trunk and palms facing each other, squeeze the shoulder blades together against the pull of the band. Do not poke the chin or arch your lower back while you do the exercise.
Return and repeat. 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
Theraband I’s – Tie an elastic strap to a secure object at waist level. Bring your shoulders back and down and hold the elastic strap. Pull your arm backward while keeping your elbow straight. Return to the starting position and repeat. 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
Theraband T’s – Tie an elastic in front of you at waist level. Hold tightly both ends of the elastic in separate hands. Your elbows are slightly flexed. Keeping your elbows locked, shoulders down, chin tucked in and torso stable, pull the elastic backwards as far as possible by joining your shoulder blades together and keeping your arms horizontal. Slowly return to the initial position and repeat. 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
Doorway stretch – Stand up in front of an open doorway. Place your forearm along the wall. Lean your body forward until you feel a stretch across your chest and the front of your arm. To emphasize the upper chest, place the arm lower than horizontal, to stretch more the middle portion, place the arm perpendicular and to stretch the lower portion, place the arm higher than parallel. Hold 15 seconds for 5 reps
So give these a try, but if you start to have pain with any of these exercises, stop and consult with your SSI physical therapist!