Gravity: it’s a constant, unrelenting force pushing down on your body all day long. If you are not vertically aligned against this continuous pressure, not only will you fail to build your bones (see my blog Prevent Osteoporosis with Aligned Posture, but you may also suffer back pain.
As I’ve said before, if you are not in vertical alignment, the constant pull of gravity will be sent through your soft tissue instead of through your bones. This will over stress your muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia, which can cause strain, breakdown and pain in the body.
Many times this pain becomes focused in the lower back. Simply making a client aware of this imbalanced posture and training them to stack their shoulders over their hips can relieve the strain. This is the case for me. While standing, if I start to feel any tension in my low back, the first thing I do is check my posture. Going back to my old habit of pushing my hips in front of my shoulders is many times the cause of my pain.
Why do we stand in a swayed posture?
There could be many reasons. First, look at the fashion models. The slouch is cool, portraying a care free attitude towards the world. Without even being aware of it, we may be imitating their position. Second, we are a driven society. Our posture can reflect our fast paced lifestyle and desire to get ahead. Since we move from the hips, some say we are driving ourselves forward from these joints to succeed. Third, as one of my clients pointed out, our shoulders back and hips forward posture may be due to our need for personal space. We are literally backing away from people, situations, etc. in an attempt to protect ourselves.
My view is that in our effort to stand in better posture, we are throwing our shoulders back so far that the hips are forced to go forward to balance. I see this all the time. When I meet someone and mention I work in posture alignment therapy, the reaction is to raise the chest and arch the lower back to create the appearance of even, lifted shoulders.
To stand straight, all that is needed is to pull the shoulder blades down and back while keeping the spine and torso neutral. Unfortunately, many of us have a rounded upper body position from hours of reaching in front of us during the day - driving, typing, cooking, etc.--leaving our chest and back muscles overly tight and weak. The chest muscles are short and the upper back muscles are long. Lacking the flexibility and strength in these muscles to adjust the shoulder position, the lumbar spine modifies its curve. The lower back arch is exaggerated and the hips are pushed forward to bring the shoulders back.
In ideal alignment the vertebrae of the spine support the weight of the upper body with minimal help from the back muscles. When the posture of the vertebrae are altered the bones can no longer resist gravity and muscles are recruited to do the job. Already in a compromised position, these muscles which are designed to move the body become further stressed with the additional role of supporting the upper body. Back pain is the result of this compensation.
To correct your alignment and retrain your body in a better position, practice the exercises shown in the blog, 5 Posture Exercises to Build Your Bones. Although different conditions, the postural cause of back pain and osteoporosis are the same: the joints are not aligned.
Initially, standing in good posture will feel wrong if you are used to being slouched. Your brain will tell you that you are bending forward and sticking your butt out. Give it time. Eventually your brain and body will adapt to this new position, and your back will thank you.
Stand tall and pain free!