ALL ABOUT POSTURE

As our clients know, improving posture is the cornerstone of our training methodology.  Research indicates that postural alignment is not just “an appearance thing”.  The following is from a feature article in IDEA Fitness Journal, April 2011 (with comments from me) regarding the importance of good posture and the perils of poor posture.  This is such an important topic, our entire May newsletter is devoted to it.

By Correcting Faulty Posture, You Can Improve Overall Health – It is often observed in the literature that a skeletal framework and/or spine that is misaligned may result in a cascade of bodily problems, most notably an impediment of the electrochemical messages of the nervous system (since the spine is the pathway for the nervous system to and from the brain). Health-wise this is of paramount concern, since the nervous system is involved in the control and regulation of most bodily system functions.

Posture can be defined as a state of skeletal and muscular balance and alignment that protects the supporting structures of the body from progressive deformity and injury. Whether a person is erect, lying, squatting or stooping, good posture allows the muscles of the body to function with maximum efficiency.

In poor, or faulty, posture (aka postural dysfunction), there is an imperfect relationship among various skeletal structures of the body, and this may produce strain on the body’s supporting framework. With faulty posture, the body is balanced less efficiently over its base of support.

If the body segments are out of their optimal alignment for extended periods of time, the muscles eventually adapt by either shortening or lengthening (depending on the position). Prolonged misalignment adversely affects nerve tissue and function and the adaptive changes in muscle tissue (whether lengthening or shortening) result in muscle imbalances, which can have a number of health consequences, including greater risk of injury.

Forward-head posture (FHP) is the most common form of poor posture in all age groups. People with FHP tend to develop a habitual head misalignment while sitting at a computer workstation, working on hobbies, playing video games or driving transport vehicles.

Proper sitting posture requires awareness and effort.  The head should be kept up over the shoulders, with the back maintaining its neutral curves. Eyes should be level with the top portion of the monitor.

Shoulders are back and relaxed, with elbows resting at the side. Thighs and forearms are perpendicular to the floor, with feet planted on the ground. The monitor should be 18–30 inches away and directly in front of the head

FHP is associated with neck and shoulder pain and TMJ dysfunction (incorrect alignment of the lower jaw to the skull). With FHP there is excessive anterior positioning of the head with increased curvature at the cervical spine and a rounding of the shoulders. In addition to the musculoskeletal imbalance caused by FHP, this condition has also been linked to fatigue, restricted motion of the neck and chronic neck pain.

Posture Concerns: Adults (25–45 years) – Researchers note that postural changes between ages 25 and 45 are no longer impacted by structural growth. However, sports activities and occupational behaviors (e.g., prolonged sitting, standing or stooping at work, heavy manual labor or repetitive movements) may contribute to posture adaptations, some of which may promote deviations from optimal posture. In addition, high-risk social behaviors such as drug use and excessive drinking, as well as some fashion trends (e.g., high heels and restrictive clothing), may compromise muscle balance, movement patterns and joint positions. These adult years are an ideal time to develop total-body and core-strengthening programs (as well as healthy lifestyle behaviors) that promote and maintain optimal posture.

Posture Concerns: Older Individuals – In a rather large study of 444 women (aged 72–96) who were part of the famous Framingham Study , observed a number of limitations associated with (not caused by) poor posture. They included difficulty standing in one place for about 15 minutes; difficulty stooping, crouching and kneeling; difficulty getting in and out of a car; difficulty walking; difficulty putting on socks; difficulty reaching or extending arms above shoulder level; difficulty writing; difficulty handling small objects; and difficulties pushing and pulling a large object, such as a living room chair.

COMMON POSTURE QUESTIONS

1. What is a posture muscle?   Posture muscles help to fix or stabilize a joint; they prevent movement, while other muscles create movement. They are composed of muscle fibers that have a particular capacity for prolonged work. For instance, as a person leans forward slightly to walk up stairs (the movement), the posture muscles surrounding the spine help to prevent the upper body from falling too far forward.

2. Does poor posture affect a person’s psychological health?  Yes. It has been shown that individuals with poor posture are more likely to have poor self-image and less self-confidence.

3. What are the natural curves in a healthy spine?   There are three natural curves in a healthy vertebral spine. The low back (lumbar spine) curves inward (toward the anterior part of the body) and is referred to as a lordotic curve. The middle back (thoracic spine) is curved outward (posterior to the body). The neck (cervical spine) curves slightly forward and thus has a lordotic curve.

4. What is “neutral spine”?   Although the vertebral column has three natural curves, “neutral spine” usually refers to the lumbar region. Neutral spine is a pain-free position of the lumbar spine attained when the pressures in and around the pelvis joint structures are evenly distributed. The pelvis is balanced between its anterior and posterior positions.

5. What are core muscles?   Some researchers describe the core as an anatomical “box” in the mid-section of the body, with the abdominals in the front, the paraspinals next to the spine and the gluteals in the back. The diaphragm is the roof, while the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature are at the bottom. The authors propose that the core functions as a muscular “corset,” working as a unit to stabilize the spine. It is the “foundation” of all limb movement.  “Inner core” muscles usually refer to the diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, the deepest abdominal muscle (transversus abdominis) and the deepest spinal muscles (multifidi). “Outer core” muscles include the more superficial muscles of the abdomen, spine and hip.

6. Is it true that one should not do forward spinal exercises upon waking up?   Yes. Research has shown that pressure on the lumbar disks is 300% greater in the first hour after waking than it is later in the day. The authors concluded that the lumbar disks and ligaments are at greater risk of injury in that hour after waking.

7. Is poor posture associated with increased falls in older adults?   Yes. Researchers compared the association of different postural positions and the risk of falling in 100 ambulatory elderly people (aged 62–96). The best predictor of future fall risk was deficiency in lateral posture stability. Single-leg standing exercise is a good way to correct this deficiency.

8. What are the factors that cause people to lose control of their balance?   Factors affecting balance include muscle weakness, diminished vision, vestibular disorders (referring to the inner ear, which helps regulate balance), bone integrity, spinal injury and somatosensory (pertaining to the processing of stimuli related to touch) deficit. Balance training and proper eyewear can markedly reduce many factors related to loss of balance control.