Line Up Your Bones and Improve Your Health- Why Alignment Matters

“Don’t slouch, sit up straight, shoulders back.”  We’ve all heard or used these phases. Hunching over our desks/computers/cellular phones and carrying a heavy purse or a backpack on one shoulder are the common infractions. But what are the implications of poor posture, or as I like to refer to it, skeletal alignment? Alignment is a more objective measure of bone positions and when they are lined up properly, in moving and resting positions, our muscular and organ systems work smarter and more efficiently. Working smarter, while performing activities such as weight lifting, running, Zumba, cardio machines, yoga, Pilates, and martial arts, will provide maximum benefits. Continuing to maintain proper “resting alignment,” is also vital to the health of our bodies.

What does poor posture/alignment look like?

Many of us were raised with a parent or teacher who constantly admonished our postures, “don’t slouch, sit up straight, and shoulders back!” Consequently, we lifted our chests, pushed out our ribs and compressed our spines. Over time, we either grew tired of holding the position or it was impossible to maintain, because we weren’t in good alignment. This led to unhealthy habits and creating new “normals.”

We see similar positions and postures at the gym, home and school/office: rounded and shrugged shoulders, butt tucking, over-arching spines, forward heads, slumped sitting, one-legged standing, protruding abdomens …you get the picture. While we don’t see stomach sleeping at the gym, school or office (hopefully), this common sleeping position can be just as stressful on our bodies as our other positions.

Why does alignment matter?

Poor alignment stymies the body’s ability to create equilibrium and balance.  For example, when building a house, carpenters are very particular to align beams and posts very precisely along the vertical axis of gravity. Proper placement allows the forces to be distributed through the “plumb line,” bearing the weight of the roof and upper stories. This creates balance within the structures.  Human bones are similar and need to be aligned along the plumb line to delicately balance the weight of a heavy head and upper body.

When the bones are not in the right places and muscles are not at their best length, they create excessive stresses and strain on our joints, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. This excessive joint and tissue strain can lead to headaches, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, as well as muscle weakness and tightness. Organs can’t function optimally, creating shallow breathing, poor voice volume and dynamics, exhaustion, slower digestion due to crowding of organs, and circulation issues leading to less than optimal blood flow to the brain.

In addition, poor alignment turns off the deep core muscles, the stabilizers of the body, relying on the wrong muscles to keep us upright in the “plumb line.” These misalignments lead to a viscous cycle of weakness, tightness, pain and dysfunction. Why not line up your bones? It allows your body to work smarter, not harder.

What does optimal posture/alignment look like?

Try this to test your standing posture: Stand six inches from a wall and place your head, shoulder blades and buttocks against the wall. There should be less than two inches of space between your neck and lower back curves. Your head should be straight, not tilted up, down, or side ways. Keep your shoulders back and try to remain relaxed. Use your stomach muscles to keep your chest aligned over your hips.

How’s your alignment? Are you working smarter? Can you walk away from the wall and maintain this position? If you are having difficulty, your muscles may not be conditioned to hold this position very efficiently. Conditioning and positioning exercises may be in your future to help you gain and maintain proper skeletal alignment.

Tips to improve your Posture:

  1. Don’t keep your back ramrod straight and stick out your ribs
  2. Avoid wearing high heels if you are standing for long periods of time  
  3. Don’t sleep on your stomach
  4. Become more aware of your alignment while moving, sitting, standing and sleeping.
  5. Catch your reflection in a window, mirror or a candid photo. 
  6. Give others permission to tell you when you aren’t standing, sitting or moving in the best alignment.
  7. Seek out a medical professional that can advise you on improving your posture/skeletal alignment.

ALIGNMENT MATTERS… Improve Your Health

Dr. Rebecca Hoeck PT, DPT
Owner/Clinic Director at Intelligent Motion Therapy, LLC
Physical Therapy and Pilates Training

Is Clinical Pilates useful for people with low back pain?

Approximately 85% of the US population will experience acute low back pain lasting 2-4 weeks.  Let’s face it, we sit too much and move too little, which can contribute to weakness, stiffness and low back pain. If you are one of these people, you know the difficulties that accompany low back pain. Many people get better after 2-4 weeks, however, the pain may last weeks, months and years longer.  If you are one of the few that are experiencing chronic low back pain, you may benefit from clinical Pilates.

Clinical Pilates is an approach that combines the benefits of Physical Therapy and Pilates- based exercises to turn on the deepest core muscles that are slow to rebound after an episode of acute low back pain. Instead of returning to normal looking and functioning spinal muscles they lose strength, reduce in size, and turn into fatty tissues. Fatty tissues do not provide the strength and stability to the bones in the back. Instead, the loss of ‘normal stiffness’ and strength of the spine allows unwanted, extra movements, causing wear and tear on the sensitive tissues of the bones, ligaments, joints, muscles and nerves in the back causing back pain. The back pain may eventually disappear, but the muscles haven’t regained their strength, size, stamina and stability without the proper deep core training.

Pilates works to strengthen the deepest core muscles of the abdominals and spinal muscles, returning the fatty, dysfunctional muscles to strong, resilient and stabilizing structures. When these muscles remain weak, you are more susceptible to re-injuring your back, or another body part, due to changes and adaptations as a result of the normal healing process. These movement adaptations are subtle and create compensations in how you move and your ability to properly access your deep core muscles. The subtle movement changes lead to tight, weak and deconditioned tissues setting you up for other injuries. Pilates helps identify the weak, tight and deconditioned tissues leaving you with a stronger, more flexible and balanced body.

Before beginning a Pilates program for back pain, check with your doctor or physical therapist. Once you are cleared to begin exercising, it’s always a good idea to work with an instructor who specializes in back pain. Some exercises may not be appropriate for your back based on your diagnosis, what movements alleviate and what movements aggravate your pain. For example, back pain due to a bulging disc may be made worse by sitting and forward leaning positions. For this reason, it is important that people who are experiencing back pain, are carefully assessed by a healthcare professional before starting a Pilates for back pain program.

Are you ready to reduce the wear and tear on your spine and create a stronger, more flexible and balanced body? Try Clinical Pilates…it does a body good!!

Dr. Rebecca Hoeck PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Certified Pilates Instructor

Owner and Clinic Director
Intelligent Motion Therapy, LLC