Posture in a Modern World
This is the first in a two-part series on posture by Dominique M. Taylor, D.C.
If you think posture is important, you are correct. But, maybe not for the reasons you might think. Good posture is an integral part of positive body language. As we know, body language is important both professionally and socially. Much has been written and researched about how a person’s body language can be indicative of their mood, confidence, attention to detail, work ethic, character, and attitude. While body language and posture are interrelated, there are differences that must be recognized. First, your posture contributes to your body language. The opposite can be true, but not always. It is difficult to have positive body language with poor musculoskeletal posture. Second, your body language can be thought of as reflecting your state of mind or mood, but overall, posture reflects the health or fitness of your musculoskeletal system over a long period of time.
It is difficult to have positive body language with poor musculoskeletal posture.
For most of us, posture is a very personal topic, as it is often closely tied to our self-image. Posture is not a regular topic at the office water cooler, and it is difficult to quantify how much it is thought about generally. Informal focus group data, although unscientific, tell us that the majority believes their posture is either “poor,” “not that good,” or “could use improvement.” Often, those who indentify their posture as “poor” or “not that good” are unsure about what to do or where to turn for help, posture-wise. Research does tell us that poor posture can exacerbate or contribute to other health problems. Poor posture can be particularly problematic for those who experience heartburn, have breathing difficulties, or experience significant back or leg pain. New research suggests that for the average person, there may be a long-term health benefit to having good posture. Place me squarely in the camp of needing more time to review the scientific findings and study methods before I draw my own opinion as a practitioner. Regardless, your posture matters. Let me tell you why.
I see significant posture problems often. Some posture problems are habitual in nature, while others are congenital and so severe and debilitating that they require frequent medical attention, even multiple surgeries. I want to focus on habitual posture, or in simple terms, the type of posture that we can change incrementally over time. What we do each day can affect our posture long-term. The world we live in is changing, and it is changing our bodies too. In the U.S., we are currently in the midst of a technology revolution. Technology is quickly revolutionizing the way we live, and it affects almost every aspect of what we do each day. Unfortunately, technology is also changing our posture—not for the better. Perhaps you have heard or read the term “technology hunch.” Each day, the average body fights what I call the “battle against the hunch.” This battle most often occurs while sitting at a computer or while using any type of electronic handheld technology device like a phone or tablet. Often, we are not aware of our posture while using these pieces of technological equipment. I am here to tell you that you must win this battle against the “technology hunch.” And to win the battle, you must be self-aware of your posture.
Let’s shift gears. How is your posture right this moment? Chances are, since you have already read the word “posture” several times in the past few moments, you have either straightened your head, neck, shoulders, or changed positions generally. Why? Because you are consciously self-monitoring your posture and adjusting positions based on what you believe would be a better posture. We call it self-awareness, and it is really important.
We call it self-awareness, and it is really important.
Posture matters—especially over months, years, and decades of sitting a certain way, walking a specific gait, standing in line a certain way, or doing a specific routine or activity over and over and over. Musculoskeletal posture must be cared for over time and requires a sustained, conscious effort to be self-aware. Posture is important regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Daily life tasks and activities are important, posture-wise. These daily activities include sitting at a table, sitting at a desk, sitting at a computer, looking at a phone or electronic device like an iPad or tablet, lounging at a game station, watching television, sitting in a chair or on a sofa, or even lying on the floor, standing, bending, lifting, walking, and running.
Posture changes, good or bad, occur incrementally over time. Creating good posture form is not easy. Posture improvement is a process that takes practice, because in essence you are training muscles to hold specific forms, do specific tasks, or conduct certain movements. Good posture is difficult to maintain because muscles extend, contract, and fatigue. Most important, muscles have memory. Muscles remember both the good habits and the bad habits. In very simple terms, good posture requires good muscle function. Muscle function requires energy. Changes in muscle function require significant effort and dedicated conscious effort to either instill good habits or break bad habits. Sometimes it is easy for us to lose that conscious effort because it requires discipline and energy at the same time.
Creating good posture form is not easy.
When fatigue or lack of discipline occurs, our subconscious comes into control and we are no longer actively maintaining our body position or body form. Our body begins to slump and relaxation takes hold—the dreaded hunch. Our bodies are always looking to conserve as much energy as possible. It some ways, we are inherently indolent—or in other words, looking to conserve energy. All muscles have a certain amount of stamina. Muscles, depending on their strength, run out of energy over a certain amount of time. When muscles run out of energy or are controlled by the subconscious, they always prefer the easy route: slack posture, or the hunch.
Prevention of posture problems, when possible, is always easier than corrective treatment. This is true of many ailments. Far too many do not contemplate posture changes until the effects of poor posture are already evident. Muscles have memory. You have to break the bad muscle memory and create a new muscle memory, along with precise muscle training. Practitioners call it practice or therapy, but in reality, it’s muscle training. It is not an easy process, nor a quick one. If you are concerned about your posture or other health issues, you should consult your health care provider.
Prepare a list of daily activities ahead of time, and ask which can be modified to improve your posture over time. Here are some broad tips that may be helpful in improving daily posture.
At work or school:
- Sit tall and erect, especially in front of computers or technology devices.
- Look straight on at your monitor.
- If possible, use a chair with lumbar support.
- Strive to remember that elbows, hips, and knees should be at 90 degree angles when possible.
- Many businesses have ergonomics professionals on staff; do not be afraid to contact them for assistance.
At the gym:
- Try to incorporate exercises that activate your rhomboids such as seated upright rows, which will help bring your shoulders back and move your chin higher.
- Foam roll periodically to stretch the “thoracic kyphotic curve”—roll from your upper lumbar spine to the neck region.
- Focus on core stability exercises like front and side bridging, doing a variety of exercises using a Bosu Ball or an Airex balance pad and exercises for your back, such as Superman exercises.
- Common abdominal exercises are not going to be enough in the fight to maintain a strong core.
As a practitioner, it is very rewarding to see a patient’s posture and musculoskeletal function improve steadily over time with therapy, exercise, and activity modifications. Good posture is like the magic little capsule that can make anyone look and feel great. But, it is not easy to achieve or maintain. Posture is important for many reasons, not the least of which is long-term health concerns. Make sure your daily posture commands the attention it deserves. Be self-aware of your daily activities, and what changes you can implement to improve your posture. Fight the hunch. Your posture depends on it!
It is very rewarding to see a patient’s posture and musculoskeletal function improve steadily over time with therapy, exercise, and activity modifications.