“Pull your shoulders back”.
That’s a phrase you’ve probably heard a few times. It’s also a phrase I constantly utter to my clients. Maintaining proper neutral spinal alignment is practice I’ve become overly obsessed with over the last few years. We currently live in a society where work demands, personal and family commitments leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. This directly impacts our posture and creates imbalances all over the body. Poor posture can negatively impact movement patterns, affect athletic performance and cause injuries. But despite these concerns, so many of us still struggle with keeping our spine in its neutral curve.
So how do you know if you have good posture?
The good news is that poor posture is very easy to fix. The first step towards achieving good posture is identifying the weakness and imbalance. Almost everyone I know has a postural deficiency. A lot of us are born with mechanical disadvantages and spend most of our lifetime correcting it. It isn’t quite known why humans develop poor posture. But what appears to be certain is how we bend to pick up objects from the floor, the different angles in which we rotate the hips, how we carry our handbags and backpacks and favoring certain limbs during activity all impact posture one way or another.
Here are some quick and easy ways to assess your posture.
Stand with your hands hanging along your sides and have someone take a picture of you from the side. If your view resembles the middle image in the picture above, congratulations! You posture is good. If its similar to the images on the far left and right, it means you’ve got some work to do. From an anatomical position (feet hip-width, shoulder-width apart; hands hanging along your side), if your thumb fingers rotate inwards even slightly, it indicates tight shoulder internal rotators. In a plank position, if the lumbar region hyper-extends or ‘sags’, it is a reflection of weak glutes and various hip extensors. If your head and chin tend to drop forward when standing or walking, you’re in a ‘slouch’ posture.
THE FIX (#1):
This is going to sound a bit weird and crazy but the best way to correct a bad posture is to practice good posture. Coaching cues like ‘stand tall’, ‘brace your core’, ‘pull your shoulder blades back’, ‘squeeze your glutes’ and ‘keep your chin up’ are some excellent reminders that not only can help address poor posture but help in the maintenance of good posture. The challenge is remembering to always apply these cues in our day-to-day activities. Due to stress from work, school and family, it can be difficult to be consciously aware of our posture. This is the only drawback to this solution.
THE FIX (#2):
There’s currently insufficient evidence that support the notion that posture can be ‘fixed’ completely through exercises. More research is being done at this time. However they can be improved and enhanced to a degree. Strengthening the musculature of the upper back and the hip extensors is the the final solution for postural enhancement. The posterior shoulder muscles can be strengthened via a variety of corrective exercises. Keep in mind the objective is to retract or ‘pull’ the shoulder blades forward from a protracted position. The term ‘slouch’ is just a fancy replacement for protraction of the shoulder. With that being said, the scapular wall slide is an excellent choice for correcting rounded shoulders. A wall is all that’s required so it can be done virtually anywhere.
For more on how to perform the scapular wall slide and 4 other fantastic exercises for enhancing posture, check out this blog post I wrote a few months ago.
There are people who were born with partial curvatures and deviations of the spine and may never achieve good posture. Scoliosis, Lordosis and Kyphosis are abnormalities of the spine that leaves a person in awkward positions and angles for life. Although people with these conditions can still improve their posture through strength training and corrective exercise , their curvatures may never be fully corrected. Chiropractors can assist to a degree but the evidence that they can fix the curvatures remains inconclusive. The good news is that traditional exercises and day-to-day activities can still be performed pain-free.