Posture – The Importance of Alignment and Finding Muscular Balance
Ever since youth, you’ve heard plenty of fuss about posture — “sit up straight”, “stand tall”, “don’t slouch”. But why? What is all the fuss about? Why is posture so important?
First, what is posture? Posture is defined as the way that one carries his or her body both while stationary or in motion. Good posture preserves your lifeline — your spine. Besides keeping you upright, your spine protects your spinal cord which, combined with your brain, makes up your central nervous system and controls everything that you do. Good posture will reduce stress to your spine. Pretty important… right? But, there’s more. In addition to the protection of your spine, good posture preserves overall joint health.
So, we agree on the importance of posture. The problem still therein lies that many of us don’t know what good posture (or bad posture) looks like. What exactly does “good posture” look like? Without complicating the matter, having good posture means having the alignment — stacked above one another — of several major landmarks; the ears, shoulders, hips, spine, hips, knees, and ankles. By design, the spine comes equipped with a series of strategic curves and, if you maintain this natural curvature, those landmarks should be in relative alignment and will best put you in a position to safely bear load; whether just your bodyweight or with an external load.
Although we are all, by nature, constructed differently, this alignment has been proven to best protect and preserve your spine. The closer you are to this alignment, the better set you are for spinal and joint longevity.
Cause and Effect of Spinal Misalignment (Bad Posture)
Most of us were born with good posture but, as time progressed, some of us continued to walk with proud chests and heads held high while others began to look like they were sentenced to a lifetime in the bell towers of Notre Dame (hunchback).
Why does this happen? Are some just luckier than others? Sure, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that some luck may be involved. Being genetically gifted and having perfect anatomical proportions will certainly aid in good posture. But in large part, poor postural habits and stagnant lifestyles are to blame for poor posture.
Good posture begins and ends with strong muscular balance. A state of muscular balance preserves the integrity and alignment of your joints — those structural landmarks. A lifetime of (poor) habits and tendencies will lead to some muscles being overused and tight — dominant muscles — and some being lengthened and weak. The result is a state of muscular imbalance which causes certain muscles to have greater influence (pull) on the joint(s) that they’re attached to than their muscular counterparts. Consequently, said joint is pulled out of alignment and, if not treated or corrected, puts you at a risk of aches, pains, and ultimately injury. The worst part is, this misalignment can progress through the entire chain, causing a state of flux in your overall posture.
Two Common Postural Faults
Two of the most common postural faults are Upper Cross Syndrome (“UCS”) and Lower Cross Syndrome (“LCS”). Whether or not you’ve heard of them, you’ve definitely seen them or presently suffer from them.
Do you know anyone whose head protrudes forward or whose shoulders are rolled forward? He or she likely has UCS. Unless properly conditioned, it is difficult to avoid UCS as this condition is caused by any prolonged activity which requires you to “hunch” over. This includes, but is not limited to, using a computer at work, reading, and texting on your phone. These activities tighten your neck muscles, i.e. upper trapezius, and your chest muscles, i.e. pec major and minor, and weaken your mid-back muscles, i.e. rhomboids and lower trapezius.
Now, do you know anyone who looks as though they’re always flaunting or exaggerating their behind? He or she may have LCS. Unless proper preventative measures are taken, LCS is difficult to avoid as this condition is caused by prolonged periods of sitting — who amongst us doesn’t sit? Today — post-industrialization and modernization — we sit too much! For women, this condition is further exacerbated by wearing high-heels. These activities tighten your low back and hip flexors and weaken your glutes and abdominal muscles.
If you have UCS, LCS, or both – so, what? Well, apart from looking misaligned, these muscular imbalances, if not corrected or reversed, can cause undue stress on your spine and your joints which can then lead to various degrees of aches, pains, and ultimately injury.
In fact, one of the most common injuries that we suffer from today is low back pain; statistically, 80% of us have or will suffer from back pain in our lifetime. LCS, specifically the tight hip flexors associated with LCS, causes excessive pull and stress on your lumbar spine (hyperlordosis). Now, not only will prolonged UCS lead to that undesirable “hunchback” look, it will also reduce mobility in your thoracic spine. Why is this important? Unlike your lumbar spine which was designed for stability, your thoracic spine was designed for mobility — rotation, flexion, and extension. Immobility in the thoracic spine will be compensated for by the lumbar spine which will then bear the brunt of loads that it wasn’t meant to bear. PROTECT your lifeline!
UCS and LCS are only two possible conditions caused by imbalanced muscle pairs – with hundreds of muscles in the human body, there are many other possible areas of muscular imbalance, all of which can have equally detrimental effects.
Prevent vs. Repair
Whether it’s health or otherwise, we tend to procrastinate. We would rather repair than prevent. It should be realized that there is a lot of time and money to be saved and a lot of discomforts to be avoided by being preventative rather than corrective. Let’s not allow aches, pains, and injury prevent us from doing the things that we love.
Let’s get ahead – it’s time to find alignment.