Alignment. You will notice I use this word rather than the term posture. That is because we have an over-simplified idea of what good posture is. Alignment uses bony markers and weight distribution as guidelines. Posture just brings back memories of being told to stand up straight without any guidance.
My alignment was bad.. Really bad..for most of my life. I was often told to stand up straight, or someone would pull my shoulders back to try to make me look better. The thing is these things weren't just uncomfortable because I was a lazy stander or something. Theses things were painful. It hurt to stand or sit the way people wanted me to. This is because poor posture is so much more. There is a lot going on when you see someone standing with a stoop. Furthermore, there are plenty of people walking around with that same curve in their upper back but are hiding it!
So, lets go over what happens when poor alignment looks like poor posture and why it cannot be fixed by "standing up straight."
First we will note that the spine naturally has curves. The cervical spine in the neck and the lumbar spine in the low back have what is called a lordotic curve. They curve inward. The thoracic spine, between the two, has a kyphotic curve. It curves outward. No one has a completely straight spine, nor should they aim for one.
Curves have more strength than straight lines. If you fight against nature by trying to completely straighten the spine you are causing more compression in the spine than you are correcting.
When you have that classic poor posture look, hunched over, you are going to have some very tight muscles and some muscles which are going to be very weak. The chest and shoulders are going to be quite tight and the back and core will be weak. This is just the tip of the iceberg though.
Today we are all going to do some self-checking. Even if you think you are standing well there is probably room for improvement.
Stand up normally with your arms relaxed at your sides. Where is your elbow? Where is your elbow pit, or the inside of the elbow? What about the backs of your hands?
Quite a lot of us will have our elbows pits facing in toward the body and the backs of the hands presenting forward. This is an inward rotation from the shoulder. It comes from a lot of daily activities; typing, cooking, driving, playing guitar, etc. It sometimes looks like a simple rounding of the shoulders, but it is actually a rotation. Therefore, pushing your shoulders straight down, or having someone come and pull your shoulders straight back is NOT the solution. The problem is rotational so the solution is also rotational. You do not want to mess with shoulder rotation. The shoulders are a very complex joint and can become quite painful when messed up (yes, that is the technical term). It also creates a lot of muscular tension in the shoulders and upper back.
Now, go stand with your feet a few inches from a wall with your butt touching the wall. Is your upper back, around bra strap level, touching the wall, or is it inches away? If it is inches away from touching the wall you are probably a rib thruster. What is that? Well, that is someone who is pulling their ribs forward to mask the kyphotic curve in their thoracic spine. Another way of checking to see if you are thrusting your ribs is by feeling for the front of the ribcage. Do your ribs line up with the the hip bones or are they in front of the hip bones? The ribs shouldn't be in front of the hips The problem with this is this pulling creates compression in the spine north and south of the ribs.This is one danger of telling someone to stand up straight without guidance. The person will thrust their ribs forward in an attempt to look the way you want them to.
A rib thruster doesn't look like someone with bad posture, but still has tension in the back and a weak core.. seeing a pattern? Tightness, weakness, and mal-alignment go together.
The bad news is where weakness and tightness meet is where we find stress risers. A stress riser is a recipe for injury because it is where the cells are breaking down. Like the line on a piece of paper that you have folded over and over again, eventually you get a tear.
The good news is there are exercises and stretches that can help a lot! However, I can't just say, "here, everyone do these exercises and you'll all be fixed." Everyone is going to have a slightly different tension pattern with different solutions.
I can say this though. Rather than saying stand up straight to yourself or someone else, try saying, "put your weight in your heels." This goes a long way to getting aligned until you can work on everything with a corrective exercise specialist, like me. At first it is going to feel like you are leaning backwards, but just check with a mirror. If you are an over-achiever you may also check in that mirror that your ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, and ear are all lined up.
Just remember that this is just a piece of the puzzle. Remember that shoulder rotation? How about the turn out from my previous post? There are small adjustments one can try, but lets get together and work on the whole body, rather than just fragments.
Till next time!