“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:
- Don’t keep your back ramrod straight and stick out your ribs
- Avoid wearing high heels if you are standing for long periods of time
- Don’t sleep on your stomach
- Become more aware of your alignment while moving, sitting, standing and sleeping.
- Catch your reflection in a window, mirror or a candid photo.
- Give others permission to tell you when you aren’t standing, sitting or moving in the best alignment.
- 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