Why We Should Care About Posture?

If you have been to see a physiotherapist there is a high chance you have heard them speak about the importance of posture and then go on to give you exercises and strategies you can use to improve your posture. 
It seems logical that when you seek help for things such as neck pain, shoulder pain, a sore back or headaches (the list goes on), you expect treatment to be focused on that particular area. After all – what difference does my posture have on my sore shoulder or hip? Why is it so important? 
The answer lies in the intricacy of the human body and how everything works together. 
Take a quick pause from reading this and have a look at your own posture right now. Are you looking down or hunched forward? If you are standing is your weight evenly on both feet, or swayed more over to one side? If you are sitting, do you still have a gentle curve in your lower back or are you slumped or sitting cross-legged?

A large extent of our general body posture is determined by the posture of the spine. The body has 3 natural curves of the spine designed to help distribute load and force. These curves, when optimally aligned and maintained, are considered a neutral spine and include a cervical (head and neck) lordosis, thoracic (upper and middle back) kyphosis and lumbar (lower back) lordosis. 
Alterations to these natural curves can be structural (you may be born with it) but most often are the result of habitual changes. When the curvature of our spine changes, the transmission of force through our body is altered, joint range of motion can be restricted and muscular changes including changes in muscle length can occur. 

A few examples for you:
If our upper back is rounded and lacks extension movement this alters the position of our shoulder joints and limits our ability to elevate or raise our arm through full range of movement. 

Altered position of our head and neck, often seen as a forward head posture or chin poked forward, can create tension through our cervical muscles and contribute to headaches; cause restricted movement and/or pain through the jaw; and cause pain further down our neck and into our shoulders. 

Changes to the natural curve of our lumbar spine can impact range of movement through the hip and cause muscle imbalances which may manifest as pain when running, squatting or walking up and down stairs. 

Anatomically we know that correct posture facilitates optimum movement and changes to posture can result in impaired movement and altered muscle function and this has the potential to lead to pain and increased risk of injury. 
Unfortunately, there are a number of lifestyle and occupational factors which contribute to altered posture and we are seeing more and more the effect of these changes with patients in the clinic. Spending long periods sitting, looking down at our phones/devices, working on computers and driving all tend to lead to hunched or slouched postures. Bending, lifting and twisting during manual tasks, without being mindful of correct technique, can change the position and movement of the lower back in particular. Over time these postures create imbalances within muscles and change the ability of our body to optimally move and transmit force.

In static situations (when the body is not moving) the load on the body is relatively low and our body may be able to manage the effects of altered posture and all we may notice is that we are a little stiff after being in one position for an extended period of time.

However, during dynamic situations (moving, lifting, sports, general activity) the load on the body is a lot higher and we need the joints and muscles to adequately transfer force and perform the movements required. If joints are stiff or muscle imbalances exist, this force transmission is altered and our body may not be able to sustain the excessive strain leading to pain or injury. 

This is why education and training for correct posture becomes an important component of physiotherapy treatment. Postural training can be a preventative tool to avoid problems occurring over time, or during periods of higher load such as sports or physical activities. It can also be a vital part of rehabilitation once pain, dysfunction or injury has occurred. 

There are a few simple changes we can all make to help improve our posture: 
Sit tall in chairs with both feet supported on the ground

Lift our devices to near eye level to avoid having to constantly tilt the head/neck down 

Gently pull or tuck the chin in and think about lengthening through the top of the head

Limit sustained positions. After 30 mins briefly change position with a quick stretch or standing up etc, before returning back to that position. 

Daily stretches or mobility exercises 

Very small and relatively easy changes to our posture throughout the day can have a big impact on the position and movement of the body and assist to reduce episodes of discomfort, reduce muscle imbalances and reduce the risk of injury. 

If we start to take small steps to improve our posture now, our body will most likely thank us for it later. If you already notice your lower back gets sore, you have headaches a lot or your shoulders and neck are always tight, this is not something that you just need to put up with so please contact our team of Physios at Vector Health.

Anna Mickenbecker – Physiotherapist

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