Posture is one of the most misunderstood aspects of a human being. I often hear many parents speak of bad posture to their kids, yet parents in general don’t know how to assess good posture and don’t have good posture themselves. They just keep hounding, sit up straight, stand taller, stop slouching, why are you hunched over.
What is posture? From a strength and balance standpoint, it is structurally neutral. Posture is the position from which the body has to maintain the smallest energy expenditure to stay upright. In other words, it is the position that gives us the ability to fight the effects of gravity by balancing the body’s weight over the bone structure. Why is it so hard to maintain good posture throughout a lifetime?
In America we have pretty easy physical lives. All of the physical demands of life have been simplified through technology. We don’t have to chop wood, shovel coal, carry water, walk very far, to get things done. Our body can take a sedentary role in the outcome of our day. We sit in cars, chairs, and sofas, in a forward slouched position in order to create better visibility and be “comfortable”. These positions are currently our standard of need. This is the reason for all of the postural problems that are causing so much back and neck pain in our society.
Americans have weakened the structure of their bodies to the point where holding their own heads up while walking or sitting has become a difficult task. Many people cannot maintain a quality postural position for more than five minutes without fatiguing. This is good news for the pharmaceutical manufacturers that are creating better and better pain killers but bad news for all of the rest of us. Pain killers decrease a body’s innate ability to sense its surroundings and adjust accordingly; this is especially true during movement.
Posture is the basis for all functional movement! A human body will not function correctly to create movement if it cannot move from a quality postural position. Look at any professional athlete. Their posture at the time of performance must be perfect in order to create quality, controlled action. The same holds true for the rest of the world but we have not had the coaching necessary to create these movement patterns.
Let’s take the average back pain sufferer. They are generally slumped forward holding their hand on their back. Are they in a good position to do a physically demanding task like carry groceries from the car? The groceries do have to get into the house don’t they? Bad posture is the reason they have back pain and instead moving away from bad posture they are playing into the pain. By holding a slouch, they will keep themselves going sacrificing the quality of their movements with quantity of movement. This cycle can go on as long as they live.
How do we shatter the mold and create better movement patterns. Most postural or structural weakness that occurs is caused by one of three things: poor motor patterns, muscular imbalances, or tension and length discrepancies all of which can be front to back, side to side or any combination of these.
If a person has low back muscles that are too long relative to the tightness of their abdominal muscle, their body feels comfortable in a slouched position. Many articles have been written about weak abdominal muscle causing low back pain. This is a fallacy, it is really the balance of musculature that is causing poor positioning, resulting in back pain especially when placed under load (remember the groceries). Performing a lot of abdominal exercises alone can actually create or worsen back pain.
How can you find out what your functional problem is and get to the root cause of your discomfort? 1) Seek out a skilled professional that thinks outside of the box. 2) Have them create an analysis package that will help you determine the causes of your problem (make sure they are teachers and not just an instructor.) You will need to understand and make life adjustments to eliminate your problems. 3) Make sure it makes sense to you and your doctor or physical therapist.