Posture is the daily and moment by moment battle of you holding your body weight up against gravity.
To me, the statement above really hits home the need for developing a strategy so that you can win this battle, as the repercussions from losing this battle tend to be problematic (and painful!).
First, let’s understand that this discussion relates to any standing or seated positions, since gravity only effects us negatively in regards to posture when we are upright.
A classic representation of poor posture is the slouched position.
A slouched position includes a drop of the rib cage, a flattening of the low back and consequently the head falling forward. Ultimately when we slouch we are creating a single curve of the spine that is very similar to the fetal position or being rolled forward.
This is an important piece. When we are born, we have one curvature to our spine in that same direction as slouching (this curve remains throughout a lifetime in the upper back), which is why the term fetal position exists, because a new born baby is in a rounded position. The developmental phases of growth include a time period when that new born eventually begins the process of lifting her head, breaking out of the fetal position and putting a new curvature (in the reverse direction) into the neck. A later phase occurs when the child begins to stand and we add in a second reversed curvature in the low back (lumbar spine) known as lordosis.
This leaves us with 3 distinct curvatures to the spine. One primary (born with it) and 2 secondary (developed) curvatures in the neck and low back.
Here is the caveat, just like any thing that is developed (think muscles or stamina), developed processes follow a rule of “use it or lose it.”
Curvatures of the neck and low back have to be continuously stressed into the body to ensure they remain over a lifetime, and speaking of posture, if we spend a lifetime slouching we run the risk of losing these curvatures (because they’re not being used) and consequently we fall into a more and more slouched position that becomes a true spinal structural problem.
So how do we get that back? The best system that I have discovered is Foundation Training (www.foundationtraining.com) which is an exercise program designed to exaggerate the proper curvatures of the spine and train you to develop the muscles of the back to be able to sustain a proper posture when you are standing or sitting. You can find more information on their website, or watch some videos that they produced on Youtube by simply searching “Foundation Training”. We also host an introductory class at UC Life, but know that true posture changes happen with repetition and there’s always work to be done daily to manage your posture on a moment by moment basis.
There are also lots of products going around these days that help to pull you into a proper postural position. Some are devices worn on hips/low back when sitting (for desk jobs) and some are worn around the shoulders to force them backwards helping you on your quest for that great upright posture. My take on these devices is that they can be extremely helpful. I don’t see anything wrong with getting help with this battle, but I would also remind people that using a supportive device should be used to help you make changes to posture and shouldn’t be thought of as a fix for posture (otherwise you will become dependant on the device).
The answer like many positive things in health (diet, exercise, posture) is that they require work. It would be a lot easier if they didn’t, but no one can get stronger just thinking about push ups 😉 You have to get out there and do the work.
If you need help, let us know. The intro class at UC Life can be very helpful as a starting point to find out where you are, and open your eyes to the right movements needed to manage posture.
Dr. Matty Kittleson