Exploring the posture
Posture can be defined as the position of your body in space, regardless of whether you are sitting, standing, walking or lying down. Your posture influences every aspect of your musculoskeletal system, and incorrect posture is directly or indirectly at the core of every painful joint or muscular problem.
Body mechanics is a term used to refer to the way in which we use our body in space, during various activities. Good posture and body mechanics require you to hold your body in a way that your spine is well aligned, your muscles are not tense or overstretched and your joints work within their normal range of motion. Poor posture is potentially damaging to the back and related structures.
Let’s look at what we mean by “poor”. To do this, we must first explore the “ideal” posture.
With ideal posture, the forces of gravity are evenly distributed throughout the body. In this way there will be minimum wear and tear on the body’s structures and the natural balance and correct length of the muscles is maintained. The movement patterns are normal and effortless. The vital internal organs are properly positioned and not constricted. If you stand upright next to a wall, the imaginary ‘Plumb’ line should pass through:
- The ear lobe
- The neck
- The tip of the shoulder
- Divide the rib cage in half
- Through the bodies of the lumbar vertebrae
- Slightly behind the hip joint
- Slightly in front of the knee
- Slightly in front of the ankle
We all have our unique body shape, size and dimension, which is determined by our genetics. So, what goes wrong? Let’s try to summarise the factors which may influence your posture:
- Heredity factors (if your mother has a certain posture, there is a good chance that you’ll have it too)
- Illness (mental and physical)
- The type of job you do
- Hobby /sport related influences can create muscular imbalances.
- Emotional issues like being embarrassed of certain body parts (like development of the breasts during puberty)
- Repetitive movements
- Bad habits and sustained positions
- Fashion and culture
- Right or left handed dexterity may result in altered patterns of movement and skeletal alignment
All these factors may have an effect on our bodies and may determine one of the three major posture types. We will give you an insight into the postural types in one of our next articles.
Simply speaking, our muscles have two roles:
- stabilising role, that is holding bones in place
- mobilising role, that is creating large movements.
In an ideal posture, the muscles designed to stabilise will stabilise, and those designed to mobile will mobilise. Some muscles need to work as stabilizers in some movements and mobilizers in others. If a deep stabilizing muscle is not functioning properly due to weakness, a mobilizer may take on a stabilizing role. In this way these two group of muscles switch roles and the body adapts quickly in order to maintain homeostasis (the most stable state).
As an example your hamstring muscles at the back of your leg serve as mobilizers in most movements. When making large movement, they are often adjusted to stabilise the pelvis, because the deep gluteus maximus (buttocks) muscles are too weak.
As a consequence the hamstring becomes tight and short and no amount of stretching will lengthen it while it has to work as a stabilizer. The solution to this problem is to strengthen the deep buttocks muscles so they enable the hamstring to do this prime work. Examples of these incorrect muscular uses are many, as the human body is amazingly adaptive and tries to compensate in response to such imbalances. The problem is that this compensation is often detrimental to our overall posture. Just think what is happening if you constantly slouch your shoulders and never exercise your back muscles. The chest muscles become short and tight and the upper back ones, long and weak. This is certainly a one way ticket for bad posture and eventually, back problems. The good news is that by re-patterning the correct muscle use and changing the input, we can improve our posture and eliminate back pain.
There is no short cut for restoring normal muscle use and balance. The first thing is to develop body awareness. That means building proprioception and sensitivity of how you hold your body in rest or during movement. Pay attention to your shoulders and make sure to relax them and to keep the shoulder blades down, into a gentle soft V shape. Your pelvis should be levelled so the hip bones are in one horizontal plane with the pubic bone. Your spine should be long and the natural curves maintained without force. Your knees soft and your weight evenly distributed to the soles of the feet. The ribcage relaxed and not compressed.
Once you become aware of your posture at rest, you will automatically know what to do in a state of movement. Hence, you will adopt an instinctive engagement of the right muscles. Stay tuned as we will continue next week with teaching you about upper and lower body stabilisation, neutral spine and core activation.