Your mother was right… you need to stand up straight! Despite this near-universal admonishment, we're a nation of slouches. Far too many of us continue to fall into poor postural alignment, which unfortunately worsens with age. In fact, it is reported by the American College of Sports Medicine that 85 percent of all adults will experience lower back pain, which is most commonly attributed to poor posture.
In an era of which smart phones and tablets control our day-to-day, it's easy to blame this phenomenon on technology. Forward head posture is now being referred to as "text neck" due to the common misalignment of the head/neck when viewing a device in front of your abdomen. But your poor posture can't all be blamed on technology. What are the real causes of misalignment?
Postural stress is a result of poor communication between opposing muscle groups of a joint. Certain muscle groups become overactive/tight, pulling a joint too aggressively in one or more planes of motion. This means the opposing muscle groups are equally underactive/weak and therefore inhibited. The result causes ligaments, joint capsules, and other soft tissues of the body to experience overwhelming stress in one direction creating an asymmetry. The key is to promote balance and maintain straight lines throughout the body.
Here are three easy steps to correct your posture:
How do you spend most of your day? Office jockeys tend to have a very protracted head/neck from leaning over a computer, while jobs that require more standing often result in hip and back dysfunction. Sometimes an acute feeling of pain or discomfort is stemming from another area of dysfunction; the pain shows a compensatory strain, which then creates a new/additional issue. The most effective route is to consult a specialist such as chiropractor, physical therapist, or fitness specialist to assess you current postural alignment. Health professionals can much more easily detect and correct these issues than you can.
After addressing what the underlying issue is, action must be taken to help correct a misalignment from worsening. The name of the game is injury prevention. Detect and correct before something gets debilitating. More often than not, a specific exercise protocol can do wonders in a matter of just a few weeks. Health professionals will often prescribe movements to better unwind these stressed areas by strengthening weaker muscles that have previously been underactive. Strength and conditioning professionals and physical therapists will often compile a routine that can be completed two to three days a week in a supervised facility. Often times they also share a series of less intense movements, which compliment this work from home. Other times a physical adjustment is need by a chiropractor who may also supply some exercises for additional homework.
After a professional diagnosis and you begin a routine of corrective exercises, don't stop! The most difficult aspect is staying committed to your maintenance program. Constant mindfulness throughout the day is your best bet to keeping your curves healthy and pain-free. An easy way to do this is to start from head to toes and recognize where your body is positioned.
Head/neck is vertical/straight
Shoulders are pulled back and slightly downward
Lower abdomen and glute muscles slightly active protecting the lower back
Hips remain pointed forward, not contorted
Knees track straight or slightly outward of the middle toes
Ankle is stacked vertically with ones weight being displaced evenly throughout the foot
A supervised fitness program consisting of strength training, stretching, and mobility is the optimal means to attack poor body positioning. This can be a great learning experience to better understand how you may have developed particular imbalances based on muscles used in association with your lifestyle. It's critically important to pay attention to these muscles and to try to adopt better posture. If not, you run the risk of injuries such as herniations, bulging discs, and long-term muscle pain in the lower back and hip flexor muscle groups.
And that can be a pain in the butt – literally.
AJ Lamb, CSCS, CSS, PES, is a training manager at Motivate Fitness in Ambler, Pa. He is a guest contributor on Sports Doc.
Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.