POSTURE AND SPINAL DEVELOPMENT:
Having good posture not only helps with keeping you injury-free, it also makes you looks taller and slimmer and gives you more energy! What’s not to love about that?!
Posture defined is the relative position of all of our body parts. Each joint has an optimal position and range of motion. In this position our joints are exposed to the least amount of wear and tear and the most efficient use of energy.
image from https://posemethod.com/pose-vs-posture2/
When we are out of alignment (poor posture) wear and tear and the cost in terms of energy are increased, not only to maintain this posture, but also to make every move. We are therefore more likely to sustain an injury. Poor posture is exactly why so many of us experience musculoskeletal pain – otherwise known as CHRONIC POOR POSTURE.
When do we first start developing our posture:
It all starts before we are even born! Nature is amazing. It is so important for mothers to look after their spinal health and remain active, because it helps their babies core muscles develop and provides them with optimal space for foetal development. At Peacehaven Chiropractic Rachel is experienced working with pregnancy and with children. Chiropractic care can help keep your pelvis aligned and moving eveningly side to side. Your uterus sits in your pelvis.
Babies are born with a set of primitive reflexes; these help them as they pass through the birth canal. Think of them as our original blueprint. As we grown, postural relflexes lay over the top and dampen down our primitive reflexes. These postural reflexes form the framework within all our systems operate effectively. The tranistiion from primitive to posural does not happen at a set time, but is gradual, often both reflexes existing together. The postural reflexes help to shape our spinal health, posture, movement and stability (1).
When babies lay on their fronts, by 6 weeks they should be able to lift their head in line with thier body and by 12 weeks maintain it there for several minutes; this helps the curvature of the neck and determines the development of the muscles that support the head (1).
At approximately 16 weeks we begin to use our arms to push our chest off the floor. eventually raising ourselves up onto our knees and rolling over (6 months) (1), this helps create our low back, lumbar, curve and imorove muscular strength. Crawling is paramount as it helps to develop an even pattern of movement across the pelvis and again improve our core strength, providing support for the lower back. These early stages are very imprortant and if a child misses any one of these steps problems can develop in the future.
Children tend to use their bodies functionally, therefore do not often feel musculoskeletal pain, however once we become a teenager we become more self aware and our posture can suffer. Teenage girls are notorious for standing with rounded shoulders to hide their developing breasts and if tall may stoop to become in line with their peers. Carrying heavy bags, often on one shoulder and spending far too long on computers, phones and tablets is definitely taking its toll!
What determines our posture?
The relative length-tension relationship between muscles is largely responsible for our posture. These muscles are controlled by our brain, via the spinal cord. Joints have 2 sets of muscles on opposite sides, if one side is long and weak, the other will be short and weak (tight). This affects the position of the joint and its full potential movement.
A good example is our hip flexors and bottoms! Many of us sit for long periods in the day, so the hip flexors shorten and the gluteals become weakened. The result, your pelvis pulls forwards resulting in an increased lumbar lordosis (curve) and if one side is tigher than the other we end up with a torsion in the pelvis. The hip joint, knee and ankle therefore are no longer in optimal position and this affects leg range of motion. Without correction this can lead to injury.
Poor posture can also have a knock-on effect on the rest of the body, not just our musculoskeletal system (everything is connected afterall!) If you slouch, your ribcage will drop forwards restricting your diaphragm and therefore your breathing. It also means your stomach is squashed and so can give symptoms of indigestion/reflux. It will restrict blood flow to the organs including the uterus, so painful periods can result and impaired bowel digestion, thus symptoms of IBS.
Circulation and nerve signalling from the brain can also become compressed (especially with a forward head posture) which can result in headaches, migraines and numbness in the legs and arms.
How can I help myself?
We can all do a ceratin amouont of assessment by just looking in the mirror, or if you feel brave have someone take photos of you front, back and side view. Use the guide picture at the top of this article to help yiou. If you just think about stnding and sitting tall you are already halfway there! The more you remind youorself the easier it becomes, new habits take time to form, old one die hard!
Stretching a sterenthening exercises can be very helpful; however specific ones depend on your postural weakness. Most people will benefit from doing a head to toe stretching and movement programme which focuses on getting the whole body active. The Straighten Up UK (SUUK) exercises developed by British Chiropractic Association are a great starting point. We also have free leaflets in clinic that show this routine.
Can exercise make my posture worse?
Some exercises can, yes! Although many people are tols that poor posture is a result of adbominal weakness, doing repeated sit-ups actually strengthens the muscles that cause you to slouch! Your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles are much more important to work on, however underused muscles are hrd to wake up! Pilates, initially 1-2-1 classes are super helpful in achieving this.
Most importantly is to focus on how you sit and stand, once you are aware of how to do this well, Yoga and Pilates are great, these focus on your postual stabilising muscles. Any other exercise that challenges your balance such as free weights and stability ball exercises are also great. Of course always discuss with a fitness professional, your doctor or chiropractor before you commence if you have any concerns.
Will I achieve perfect posture?
This is unlikely! You posture has developed over years, however you can always improve it. Our environment and how we use our bodies daily have a huge impact. The important thing is to maintain mobility and be aware of when you are not holding yourself optimally.
1) Goddard, S. Reflexes. Learning and Behaviour; a window into the Child’s Mind. fern Ridge Press, 2002.
2) Liao, M.H. and Drury, C.G., Posture, discomfort and performance in a VDT task. 2000, Ergonomics, 43(3); 345-359.
3) Sauter, S.L., Schleifer, L.M. and Knutson, S.J., Work posture, workstation design and musculoskeletal discomfort in a DT data entry task. 1991, Hum Factors, 33(2); 151-167.