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When I think of the word posture, I immediately hear my mother saying, "sit up straight, your posture is terrible." I'm sure we have all heard that from someone in our life at some point. Posture is how we hold ourselves, and unfortunately, most of the time, we aren't even aware of it.
The problem with bad posture is that our muscles adapt to it. Although no one has the perfect posture, there is a lot we can do to improve upon how we hold our bodies while doing the activities we do on a daily basis.
In the age of technology that we live in, we are always looking at a screen. Whether it is our computer, our phone, the television, or a movie screen, we position our head, back, and shoulders in all kinds of precarious positions for long periods, and this all leads to poor posture.
According to biomechanical expert, Dr. Mark Cucuzella, subtle misalignments in the back and neck brought on by factors such as sedentary lifestyles, heavy smartphone use, long days at desk jobs and even sleep habits are setting the stage for more severe problems.
Kyphotic posture is typical in office workers, obese or large breasted women, and tall people. It is an excessive rounding of the upper back. It is a result of slumping the shoulders forward while craning the neck forward (forward head posture) for extended periods of time.
This type of posture occurs over time as the thoracic spine muscles stretch, and the chest muscles shorten. These muscle imbalances happen over time, but they eventually leave us unable to make postural adjustments to correct it. We are stuck.
If left untreated, kyphosis can cause severe neck and back pain, difficulty breathing due to crowding of the diaphragm, and permanent spinal deformity.
Lordotic posture is typical in dancers and gymnasts who repeatedly stretch for increased flexibility. It is also common in pregnant women due to the laxity of the pelvic muscles. Lordosis also occurs commonly in obese people.
Characteristics include a forward tilting pelvis (belly button jutting forward), stomach muscles and gluteal muscles are stretched out and weakened. There is tightness in the hamstrings, lower back, and hip muscles.
People with severe lordosis often suffer from back pain.
Swayback posture is common in teenagers and young adults. It is also common in people who stand for long periods of time with the majority of their weight on one leg.
Features of this posture are forward head and chin; hips jutted forward, kyphosis (rounding) in the thoracic spine, a flattened curve in the low back, and knees are hyperextended.
Flat-back posture is when all the natural curves in the spine are flattened. Head is forward, shoulders are forward, the thoracic spine is flat (hyperkyphosis), low back is flat (hyperlordosis), and the pelvis is tilted backward (tucked tail position).
This is thought to be a congenital anomaly however, it can happen as a result of prolonged sitting and long-term poor posture.
Treatment will always mean strengthening or shortening the stretched out muscles and stretching or lengthening the shortened muscles. The ultimate goal is for all muscles to be strong and flexible creating just enough support to hold the body in a neutral position, eliminating muscle imbalances to normalize posture.
Once the muscle imbalances have been resolved and correct posture achieved then its time to maintain it and reap the benefits of good posture.
It is not uncommon to find that you have some attributes of each of these posture types. Not everyone will fall into one type of posture category. Use this as a guide to help determine where your problem areas are. Starting to make small changes in the positions that you are in most frequently will help to promote good posture.
One of the best ways to identify causes of posture problems is to look at your work and home computer stations, where you sit to watch TV, and even your sleeping position. Make sure that all of these areas are set up to facilitate good posture. Your spine should be in a neutral position with your head in line with your spine and your ears in line with your shoulders. Ideally, you should feel no strain in any part of your spine.
If you look closely at all the factors affecting posture and how to fix bad posture, you will notice some commonalities. All poor posture is a result of muscle imbalance. The muscles that need to be strengthened are directly opposed to those that need to be stretched.
Muscles adapt to the position that they are held in most often. Sitting with a forward head and a rounded thoracic spine means tight anterior neck and chest muscles in the front.
Here is a list of exercises to improve your posture. The exercises that are appropriate for each posture type are listed under each posture heading, in bold.
Plank - Lay face down on a mat or the floor. Position your forearms palms down so that your elbows are underneath your shoulders. Lift up onto your tiptoes so that all your weight is resting on your forearms and the tips of your toes. Pull your belly button up toward your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, increasing by 5 seconds a week until you are able to hold for one minute.
Bridge - Lay on your back with your arms extended and palms down. Bend both knees, bring your belly down toward your spine and lift your buttocks off the mat so that a diagonal line is formed from your hips down to your shoulders. Hold for 10-30 seconds.
Back Extension - Lay face down on a mat or the floor. Position your forearms palms down so that your elbows are underneath your shoulders. Push up with your hands arching your back backward. Try to relax your abdominal muscles and your low back muscles during this exercise. Hold for 10-30 seconds.
Side-Lying Leg Raises - Lie on your right side, use your right arm for support. Pull your belly button in toward your spine. Left your left leg toward about 30 degrees the ceiling keeping it in line with your head. Hold for 3 seconds, repeat 10 times on each leg.
Chest Stretches - Stand in a corner and put each forearm against a wall, gently lean your body in until a stretch is felt across your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
Chin Tucks - Sitting up in a chair with shoulders in line with ears, gently jut your chin forward and then pull it straight back toward your spine (like a turtle pulls its head back into its shell). Hold in “pulled back” position for up to 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
Hip Flexor Stretch - Stand next to a chair our counter where you can hold onto something for stability. Holding on with one hand use the other hand to grasp the ankle on the same side in a standing knee bent position. Gently pull back on your ankle trying to keep your hips in line with your shoulders. Hold for up to 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
Angry Cat Stretch – Get on your hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Round your back up toward the ceiling so that you feel a stretch from the base of your neck to your low back. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
Hamstring Stretch – Lay on your back with both legs bent. Lift one leg up toward your chest and grasp behind your knee, straighten the leg and continue to pull back until a comfortable stretch is felt behind your leg. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
Now that you know how to normalize your posture the important thing to do is maintain it. That is easier said than done. Using posture aids like the ones found on easyposturebrands.com will help you sustain your healthy posture.
No matter what you are doing it is imperative that you take note of how your body feels. If you feel stress or strain anywhere along your spine then change your position.