The short answer is very likely yes. Even if improved posture doesn’t reduce pain, it may prevent pain from getting worse or more chronic. Very frequently, I’m asked by my clients how to improve their posture. The answer is multi-pronged. Stretching, strengthening, and rolling out tight muscles all play an important role.
There are many reasons why posture becomes an issue as we age. The most obvious ones, gravitational pull and weakened muscles are partly to blame. The older we get, the longer we have spent in the same static positions and body holding patterns. Decreased activity and more time sitting are also culprits. Increased use of technology is wreaking havoc on people’s necks, as smartphones, tablets, and computer monitors are rarely in the perfect ergonomic position. I shudder to think of how children and teenagers who are constantly looking at their iPhones will fare as they get older. As the technology in our homes, cars and devices improve our convenience and efficiency, the reduced demand on using our bodies may actually be detrimental.
Where should you begin when trying to improve your posture? The very first step is awareness. After you recognize when your head, neck, back and pelvis are in poor positions, then try the following steps.
- Use a mirror to align your body and have a friend or partner confirm that your head and spine are positioned well.
- Do specific stretches (see below) that will loosen up the tight chest, shoulder and arm muscles that interfere with good posture.
- Do specific exercises (see below) to strengthen overstretched and weak muscles of the neck, shoulders and back and shore up postural muscles.
- Repeat and practice the stretches and make them a habitual part of your daily routine.
- Give permission to close family or friends to remind and cue you to stand up straight to raise your awareness of your spinal position.
Following are some tips to improve posture:
- Stand with feet about hip width apart, with eyes focused straight ahead, arms relaxed.
- Turn palms forward, rolling shoulders back.
- Use a wall as a reference point to to position head directly over shoulders by gently pushing the back of your head into the wall, or use a pillow behind head to accomplish pressing your head back- repeat 5 times maximum.
- In above position, move shoulder blades back so they are squarely against the wall.
- Practice sitting on the floor, with straight posture, knees slightly bent or criss-crossed, using back muscles to hold yourself up with hands on lap, instead of slumping against the back of a chair or sofa.
- Regular rolling of tight muscle groups can relieve muscle knots and prevent acute problems from becoming chronic.
Try the following exercises:
Seated back straightener at https://saveourbones.com/weekend-challenge-seated-back-straightener/. This site also lists the muscles essential to good posture.
The Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais are two biomechanical methods that examine how your daily habits contribute to chronic pain. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture and the myriad of other energy and pressure release and alignment techniques that can help you temporarily feel better. However, if you return to the same patterns of movement and static ways you hold your body, don’t be surprised when the pain returns.
See the site below to learn more about these methods:
Last, but not least, what are some good, tried and true exercises to improve posture? The ones that are simple, require no special equipment, and are ones you’ll do every day. See the following for some ideas:
- Plank- Activate all the major muscle groups, from neck to toes
- Crunches- keeping low back on the floor, with neck in alignment
- Crunches with twists
- Superman/woman – use cushion under abdomen and be sure not to strain back by lifting too high
- Superman/woman with flutter kicks- swimmers
- Back extension- bridges
- Dumbbell side bends
- Seated Twist for obliques or bicycles
- Shoulder rolls
- Kneeling stretches to stretch hip flexors
The following site will show demonstrations of these exercises and stretches. http://www.keepinspiring.me/10-simple-exercises-to-improve-posture/
Some of the other benefits of better posture are improved oxygenation of muscles and brain due to better lung expansion. Proper spinal alignment helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces and decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together. Last but not least, straighter posture helps you feel more alert, and look more confident.
If you have been struggling with trying to improve your posture for a while, or have chronic back, neck, hip or shoulder pain, a class or personal session to address postural alignment, and weak and/or tight muscles is in order. You may also want to explore the Feldenkrais or Alexander techniques which are offered in this area by googling certified practitioners. At the very least, try the exercises and tips above to see how you can improve your posture. Here’s your chance to do what your mother has always encouraged you to do – stand up straight!