There’s this crazy idea that because we get older we have to be slump shouldered, hunched over and in pain. That because we age, our posture is supposed to collapse. It’s not true. Posture is not age-dependent. You can regain a youthful posture. You are not destined to be a certain shape because you are older. However, if you are older your body has had longer to adapt to the postures that you maintain the most.
Just for a moment, think of the movement you do during the day. For a lot of us, we get up, sit down in our car on the way to work, we walk into our office sit down at our desk, we get up, walk to a meeting, sit back down, maybe take a short walk during lunch, 45mins at the gym (lucky you!), then we sit in our car, walk into our house, and sit down for the rest of the night until we are ready to lay down and go to bed. Oh, I forgot to mention the looking down at your cell phone a gazzilion times a day.
That’s a lot of sitting. And I’ve ranted on sitting before, so I’ll stop there. Let’s talk about this from a postural perspective. What is it about sitting that gives us that glorious hunched look? You know, the one where our shoulders are nice and rounded, our head is craned forward, our chest is pointed at the ground and our waist migrates closer and closer to our ribcage.
Right, so that’s what happens. We’ve all seen the pictures. The dastardly ape to office worker progression. Yadah-yadah-yadah. “Gee, thanks Tom for reminding me that I sit all the time and that I can’t get away from it. Because you see I work at an office where … And stop bothering me, my back hurts.“
I know, I worked there too. Now what? Well, let’s talk about why you are collapsing forward into a puddle of old man or woman. But most of all, what to do about it.
The Why: In basic terms, the front of your body has adaptively shortened and internally rotated. Here is the sequence of anatomical events.
Your abdominal wall shortens:
Several muscles make up your abdominal wall. Your abs connect your ribcage to your hip and pubic bones. So when they shorten, you are hunching. The most evident is a muscle called the transverse abdominis or TVA. This muscle wraps all the way around your body connecting into your lumbar spine. It is the main muscle involved in maintaining the lumbar curve. Dysfunctional TVA equals dysfunctional lumbar curve.
Where you feel it: Low back pain. In the back, especially lumbar area and the very bottom of your lumbar spine.
The Psoas shortens:
This muscle is attached to the front of your lumbar spine, travels in front of your hip and attaches to the back of the femur. (Link) As the psoas shortens, the lumbar spine is pulled flat. Shearing will start to occur between L5 and S1. Yikes.
Where you feel it: Low back pain. On your lumbar spine, at the SI joint, the front of the thigh.
The two main chest muscles are the pectoralis major and pectorals minor. They will pull your chest in and roll your shoulders forward. Also related to a collapsed chest are the muscles that protract the scapula (shoulder blade). This is what protraction means (link).
Where you feel it: Sometimes in the chest, sometimes in the front of the shoulder. When the chest is collapsed the body recruits the trapezius muscles (A.K.A. traps) as postural muscles. They begin to get dense and leathery, fatigued and sore. No to mention give you headaches.
Forward head posture:
Way to go Beibs. Stop staring at your iEverything. The ear whole is supposed to be over the shoulder joint in normal posture. If your head is forward of that, you probably have a forward head issue. Almost all of the neck muscles on the front of the neck are involved. Here’s a short list for the geeks: Sternocliedomastoid, longus capitis, longus colli, infrahyoids, anterior and middle scalenes.
Where you feel it: Back of neck pain, electrical pain down the arm, lots of different headache patterns, migraines, sore throat, ear pain, trouble swallowing, tied to (but not conclusive) sleep apnea.
On the back of the head, just beneath the skull the suboccipital group is also recruited to be postural muscles attempting to keep the eyes level with the horizon.
Where you feel it: Headaches. Radiating pain from the back of the skull and around the head in the shape of a sweat band. [/av_four_fifth]
What can help?
That’s a big question with a lot of different answers. And there are plenty of legitimate takes on the correct way to rebuild and unglue your body to have a more youthful posture. Katy Bowman has the Restorative Exercise Institute and a new book out called Move Your DNA which I can’t wait to get my hands on. Kelly Starrett has his brand of self care with Mobility WOD and Becoming a Supple Leopard.
Here’s what I do:
I’m a structural bodyworker. I specifically treat soft tissue pain and dysfunction with manual therapy. I use slow, patient techniques to reduce the excess chronic and neuromuscular tension that creates pain and dysfunction. It’s not unusual for a client to come into my office with pain and leave with their pain greatly reduced or gone. So, I’m one of the ways you can be helped. There’s more information on structural bodywork here.
No matter what you do to regain youthful posture, do something. Because the diseases of bad alignment are serious. Just look at the symptoms above, then look around you. Go to the mall, hangout. See how many people are starting to get that hunched look at an early age. It ain’t pretty, be even worse it could end in any number of surgeries. If you see me around town hunched over looking at my cellphone, pop me on the back of the head. I should know better.
If you’re interested in me help you get out of pain, shoot me an email or give me a call. I’m located in Charlotte, NC. Details are on the contact us page.