I write a lot about posture, and I talk about it a lot to my patients. That is because trying to figure out how to fix your posture is one of the biggest ways you can limit and prevent all kinds of back and neck pain. There are actually recognized sets of symptoms that come from poor posture, called upper crossed syndrome, that can account for much of the pain and discomfort that chiropractors treat every day. Before we try to fix your posture, let’s learn what bad posture looks like, and where it comes from.
The Mechanics of Posture
The spine works most effectively as a flexible column, balanced half way between a spring and a solid support beam. We define bad spinal posture as body positioning that pushes that balance too far in either direction. If your posture causes the spine to become too straight, it loses its S-curve that provides the springiness, and its ability to move is limited. On the other hand, if your posture emphasizes the S-curve too much, it loses rigidity, and must rely on your muscles to support the weight of your head and body. In order to maintain the balance, your spine relies on the strength of certain postural muscles and the positioning of counterweights.
The flexibility of the spine allows us to adopt varied positions as needed. However, repeat positioning over the course of months or years can cause it to get stuck in the wrong place. Many activities in our modern lives cause us to push our necks and shoulders forward and slump our lower back.
What are some common activities that can contribute to poor posture?
- Looking at our phones or working on a laptop
- Working at a desk
- Riding in trains or planes
- Sleeping improperly
If we do not address it, bad posture reinforces itself by causing some muscles to shorten, and others to weaken. At that point, even if we want to fix it, those muscle imbalances make proper posture seem difficult or painful. With a little work, however, you can make a permanent change and improve the way your spine functions.
How to Fix Your Posture
Attaining an efficient posture means bringing the heavy body parts your spine has to support as close to the center line as possible. Bad spinal posture often means your head juts forward from your body, your shoulders are rounded forward, and your lower back is slumped. This contributes to a “C” shape in your spine. Correcting these factors means bringing us back to a more ideal “S” shape. Only one structure can counterbalance all the weight we have in front of our spines – the arms. If we can allow the shoulder blades to work as designed, and carry the weight of the arms behind the spine – everything else falls into position. Try jutting your head forward while you hold your shoulder blades back, it feels uncomfortable. The key to good posture is the position of the your arms.
There are three components that need to be addressed at the same time to fix your posture – Strength, Flexibility and Habit.
Staying in bad posture for too long causes your body to forget how to use some muscles and for other muscles to get tight as they get comfortable in their new positions. We need to focus on the scapular retractors, like the rhomboids – which get weakened, – and the chest muscles, like the pectorals – which get tight. I like to start with one exercise that addresses both of these problems, shoulder blade squeezes.
Shoulder Blade Squeezes
Hold your arms straight in front of you, and without bending your elbows or moving your arms out to the side, retract your shoulder blades down and back. Hold for 1-2 seconds and relax. Do as many as you can without activating your upper trapezius muscle. You can tell this muscle is contracting if you start to shrug your shoulders up, instead of down and back.
You may only be able to do two or three perfectly on the first try. Don’t give up, you will progress rapidly as your body remembers how to use this motion. Try it once per day in front of a mirror so you can see if you are doing it right.
In addition to the muscular changes that happen from bad posture, the spinal joints can become stuck and inflexible making it hard to move them. The second part of attempting to fix your posture is to get these joints moving properly again using a spinal adjustment. Your chiropractor can find the specific joints that have become restricted, and manipulate them to allow them to move more easily. I often see an immediate improvement in posture after an adjustment, but you also need to address the muscle strength at home to make the changes permanent.
The final component needed to fix your posture is to remove the improper positioning that started the poor posture. Habit is a strong factor in human behavior, but we can use good habits to combat the bad. Whether you are at work or doing your daily routine, decide on a trigger that will remind you to pull your shoulders back and sit up straight. Maybe every time the phone rings, or at every red light, remind yourself to assess whether you are positioned correctly. Don’t be discouraged, with time, you won’t have to think about it. Your body wants to be as efficient as possible. Good posture can be reinforced as easily as you bad posture was!
Make an Appointment
If you need a postural evaluation, exercise instruction and adjustments to help your posture, and you are near our chiropractic office in Norwalk, Dr Thomas French would be happy to evaluate your condition, and come up with a plan to get you standing up straighter. Contact us with questions or click below to set up an appointment today.