May is Posture Awareness Month – so get your shoulders away from your ears! Raised shoulders are a sign of tension in the neck and upper back. Over time, that tension will lead to pain.
Good posture equates with good health. It means your bones are aligned, and your muscles, joints and ligaments can do the job they were meant to do without expending a lot of energy fighting gravity. When your posture is poor, it puts extra strain on your muscles and joints and can even affect bodily systems, such as digestion, breathing and circulation.
Poor posture can be a result of an accident, a fall — or bad habits. The trouble is that our body learns to adapt. When we are injured, we move differently to avoid pain. Over time, the body and brain adapt and create new muscle and joint positions – even though the pain is gone. We believe we are standing straight; our senses tell the brain we are balanced, even though the mirror shows us something different.
You Can Improve
The good news is that we are in control. We can improve our posture by focusing on core-strengthening exercises such as yoga and Pilates, and by paying attention to our posture throughout the day.
If you’re standing, keep your head up, shoulders back and stomach tucked in. When seated, keep your feet flat on the floor, your buttocks touching the back of your chair and your weight evenly distributed over both hips. Get up and stretch periodically throughout the day. You should also pay attention to the position you’re sleeping in. If you sleep on your side, keep your knees slightly bent, but not up high near your chest. If you’re on your back, put a pillow under your knees.
Check Your Posture
Here’s an easy way to determine whether your posture needs adjusting: Have someone take photos of you from the front, the back and the side. Print them. Put a dot between your feet on the front and back view, and a dot on your ankle on the side view. Now fold them vertically on the dot. Both sides should be the same on the front and back view. If your head or torso is off to the side or your arms are hanging differently, your posture is off.
Now do the same for the side view. When you open it up, the fold should be going from your ankle through your shoulder and ear. Is your head forward of that line? Is it behind the line? That probably means some of your muscles have become shortened or stiff. When your chest muscles are tight, for example, they out-pull the opposing back muscles. Your shoulders roll forward and you hunch over.
The solution is to stretch out the front and chest, opening it up. You also want to strengthen the upper back muscles; the low row machine and cable row are one way to do that.
Here are a couple of additional posture strengthening exercises:
1. The stork. This is a balancing exercise. Stand tall with your best posture, then keep straight as you lift your thigh to hip height. Keep standing tall for 30 seconds on each side, focusing on keeping your body well aligned.
2. Wall stand. Back up to a wall so your heels, buttocks, shoulders and head all lightly touch the wall. Keep everything level, relaxed and aligned while you take three slow breaths.