When someone says the word “POSTURE”, do you suddenly straighten up? Did you have the realization that you were in some not so good forward slumped position? Now what does your body think about posture? Does it know what to do to have good posture? Are you carrying some aches and pains in your neck and shoulders and possibly low back? Do you suffer from pelvic pain, diastases recti or pelvic organ prolapse? If you are, chances are that your body is in need of a reset. A posture reset that is.
As a physical therapist for over 11 years, I have seen my share of clients with not-so-great posture. And part of my professional expertise is in analyzing posture as well as the movement quality of my clients to help get to the root cause of their pain or issue. Usually, the worse the person's posture is, the more foreign “good posture” is to that person. And I will just give everyone a break right from the start here. WE WERE NOT DESIGNED TO SIT IN CHAIRS. Posture in a chair will ALWAYS be a bit of work. We were designed to stand, walk, squat (as in bottom touching your heels), and sit on the ground even. Just think of our ancestors… did they use chairs?? Nope. But alas, we live in a chair society. So we all have to work at this one. So read on to find out what SIMPLE things you can do right now.
But before I explain some easy posture tips, let me explain WHY I care so much that I would blog about it. People all over the chair-using world are hurting. Our bodies are becoming more and more out of sync with how they were designed to be held and used and we all can collectively feel that burden. Low back pain. Neck and upper shoulder pain. Tight hamstrings and hip flexors. Knee pain even. Headaches. And of course I will mention pelvic floor pain and tension. I’ve already blogged about how we should all be squatting more to help these above mentioned things, but we are still in a chair using society. Heck, I’m typing this from a chair! So lets get started. These really are good tips. Try one to start, then come back and try another.
Lets all imagine the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You can even try to strike your best hunchback pose… back rounded, shoulders forward. Now let’s just pull those shoulders back. Only change your shoulders. How does that look? Pretty attractive huh? So still with the rounded forward back, just with shoulders forced awkwardly back. Now lets slump forward again and change just ONE THING. Think about having a tall or lengthened stomach. Nothing clenched, just tall belly. Do you feel how your shoulders just naturally fall back a bit? Perfect! If you just worked on that ONE THING, in sitting standing and even walking, you would be off to a great start on resetting your posture!
When we sit on a chair, we are sitting a round shaped pelvis onto something that is flat. So how does that work out for us? We usually roll back and settle in onto our tailbone which is called sacral sitting. There is nothing about our body shape that would make sitting on a firm flat surface easy or natural. But if there was an ideal, we should try to sit on top of our sit bones or ischial tuberosities. Why is sacral sitting bad? It puts a lot of stress on your lumbar discs, forces your entire spine to curve forward and throw your head forward, and it shortens up your pelvic floor muscles. Short pelvic floor muscles mean increased likelihood of pelvic pain issues.
If you want to find your sit bones, place your hands under you on either side and then rock from the left to the right. That bony place under each side is your sit bones. There are two options you can use to make sitting atop your sit bones easier (besides working on that tall tummy). You can roll up a towel and place it on your seat just behind your sit bones so that your tailbone is touching the towel. Think of it like the wedges that we stick behind semi truck tires when they are parked to keep them from rolling back. This is PERFECT when you are a little shorter and you cannot touch your back to the backrest of your chair, or there is none. It basically sets you up for success from the ground up. The second is if you can get closer to the backrest. Roll a towel or use a lumbar cushion at the apex of the curve of your low back. To find this place, stand up and place the back of your hand at the apex of your lumbar curve. Keep your hand here while you sit down and line up the lumbar cushion with your hand. I explain this, because people usually place lumbar cushions way to low and it does not help your posture.
You should not let your body stay in any one position while sitting for work or school more than 15-20 minutes straight. You need to wiggle regularly and often. We like to call this micro stretching. Turn your head slightly from left to right, tip side to side. Round your back forward, then arch it a bit. You can even twist your trunk left to right. The point is, you don’t need to do BIG stretches. Just small movements to give your joints and soft tissues some lubrication, oxygen and a break from movement prison!
This is for the men and women that may be suffering from pain in their pelvis or pelvic floor region.
STOP crossing your legs at the knees. For women, don’t keep wearing shorter skirts where you have to keep your knees constantly pressed together. Let your knees relax apart a bit. The reason? Tensing your inner thigh muscles frequently will ramp up the tension in your pelvic floor muscles. These two muscle groups are linked like best buddies. If one is tense, the other will follow along.
So you can see from the above not so short explanation, sitting with good posture is NOT so simple. The worse the person’s posture or issues with neck and shoulder or back tension, the more likely they need some one on one treatment. A professional posture Nazi such as myself can individually assess you, identify your pain points and imbalances, physically treat the tight and tense muscles and mobilize the stiff joints, and then couple this with the appropriate posture suggestions for your work setting as well as customize the right exercises for your body to get to the point that you have arrived at a new normal. Beware of those who only work on one piece of the puzzle such as just massage to tight muscles or mobilizing of joints. If someone only gets muscle rubbed out without specific guidance and progression in posture education and exercises, they will likely need that massage indefinitely. And the positive effects of the joint mobilization or massage will only last a day or so.
If you are suffering from pelvic pain, diastases recti, pelvic organ prolapse, back pain, neck pain, headaches or tense shoulders, posture is most definitely a part of your cure. Be wary of anyone who says they can get you better with only one piece of the whole solution. It won’t work, and you will be right back where you started.
Want a great handout to print and keep with you in your home or workstation? Click HERE to download yours. There's even a bonus car posture guide. You are welcome.