Proper posture keeps muscles and joints in their neutral position where they can function without undue stress and strain.
However, due to a variety of lifestyle factors, such as too much sitting and not enough exercise or overusing one part, we can develop poor posture.
Improper posture can come from a sedentary lifestyle, prolonged sitting and excess abdominal girth. This results in a number of effects, including a shortening of the hamstrings, tight hip flexors, short lower back muscles, lengthened abdominal group, shortened pectoral group, stretched upper back muscles, and shortened neck muscles.
One common result of this is chronic strain (and pain) in the weak, stretched upper back muscles and a forward head posture. Note that when head carriage is normal, the cheekbone should fall in the same vertical plane as the sternum and the front of the pelvis, and the ear should be aligned with the centre of the shoulder and hip.
When the shoulders are rounded forward, this puts the person at risk for thoracic outlet syndrome. This is often associated with shoulder dysfunction and impingement of the nerves feeding the arm as they exit the cervical spine or as they run underneath the deep chest (pectoralis minor) muscles.
One most important steps towards improving postural problems is to identify muscle imbalances; stretch tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles. However, some exercises can exacerbate this condition, while others will correct it. It is important to be given an appropriate exercise program.
In the case of rounded shoulders, strengthening the upper back by doing a rowing exercise against resistance is helpful. You can also stretch the chest by standing in the corner of a room or in a doorway with your arms on the walls or door jams and by leaning forward you can stretch your chest and shoulders.
Poor posture is often caused by environmental factors such as too much sitting, or how your work-station is designed. If you have to crane your neck forward to read your computer screen or put your arm in an awkward position in order to mouse or type on your keyboard for eight hours a day you can develop these postural problems that can cause pain and stiffness. Doing exercises to address this will help, but unless you get at the root of your problems, you will be in for a perpetual struggle of abuse and correction. So have a good look at the positions you sit, stand and work in during the day and make changes to alleviate the cause for postural duress. If your chair has no low back support, then either find one that does, or use something to substitute, such as a pillow or towel placed in the small of the back while you sit.
If your monitor is far enough away from you that you have to squint to see the screen, then move it closer so you can sit up tall and don’t have to crane your neck forward. Taking frequent breaks or change in body position will also allow the muscles to get some relief.
Many of these solutions are simple and practical and can make a big difference over the course of a day.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge