Posture

Poor posture can cause problems including:

  • back pain
  • headaches
  • muscle fatigue and strain
  • joint degeneration and increased disc problems
  • rounded shoulders
  • poor circulation
  • jaw pain
  • RSI

Osteopaths may improve your posture by:

  • improving muscular flexibility in your body        
  • improving range of joint motion in the spine and other joints
  • providing instruction on ‘good’ posture
  • advising on ergonomics
  • providing exercises to strengthen postural muscles

Below is a picture taken from Worksafe, QLD, to give a pictorial description of correct sitting postures.

 

More information on how to set up the workstation ergonomics can be found here.

When a person is starting to improve their posture, it is very common for them to feel uncomfortable. The small stabilising muscles around the lower part of the spine, which haven’t been used consistently, are weak and, like any muscle that is worked, they initially aren’t able to maintain a contraction for longer than 15 minutes without pain. It is very important at this stage to be realistic. Firstly, you need to be ready to increase the strength of the muscles. This takes time, can be frustrating, and will lead to some pain initially due to a build up of lactic acid. When this happens remember, if you were an athlete trying to improve your performance you would train your body and initially there would be aches and pains in the days afterwards. This is a normal part of increasing muscle strength and over time it will decrease.

It is not normal, however, to be in a significant amount of pain. This can occur due to imbalances in the body, which are leading to joint or muscle strain. If this is the case it is advisable to consult a practitioner such as an osteopath. Treatment can help to increase the range of motion of the joints, and improve the balance of the musculoskeletal system, which decreases the strain on the muscles and joints, allowing them to heal.

Secondly, you must break the habit of allowing yourself to have poor posture by being consciously aware of how you are sitting, standing or lifting. As with breaking any habit this can take some time, which may mean months of reminding yourself.

Basically the initial process of improving your posture will take some determination and hard work from you. Don’t become despondent if this takes 6-12 months. Over time you will form new habits and increase your muscle strength and maintaining your posture will become something you aren’t even consciously aware of.

Standing Guidelines

The most important thing to remember when standing for long periods of time is not to exaggerate the curves of your back. It is very easy to allow your chest to slump down and your hips to protrude forward, allowing and your lower back to strongly arch. Instead you should try to stand tall. This means turning on your core muscles.

Common mistakes people make whilst standing for long periods include standing with their weight predominantly on one leg, thrusting the other hip to the side. This leads to twisting and compression in the spine, and is fairly easy for people to correct. If you tend to stand this way try standing with your feet slightly further apart and remember to keep your shoulders in a natural line above your hips.

Another common mistake people make when asked to stand tall is to only think of pulling their shoulders back. This means that they only muscles they are using are those of the upper back and shoulders. These muscles are not the right type of fibres to maintain a contraction for a long period of time, and will be become constantly sore.

To maintain correct posture, the muscles which need to be switched on are those in the lower back, mid back and the stomach. The mid back region is the area of the back which is underneath the shoulder blades and above the lower back. It is the muscles in this region which are the most common for patients to exhibit weakness in. This makes it the most common region for patients to feel an ache in when they are increasing the strength of their postural muscles.

The steps outlined here are only generic, but many individuals find them very useful. The most common factors which stall a patients progress to better posture are not making a conscious effort to change their behaviour over the long term, or not seeking advice if you are struggling. It is useful to keep in mind that you may need some treatment to help realign your body. This makes it far easier to change your habits and can be provided by a practitioner such as an osteopath.

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