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Its time to improve your posture: Ways to straighten up!

So what is posture all about?

Our friends at South Yarra Spine and Sports Medicine have taught us that your spine is strong and stable when you practice correct posture. If you tend to stoop or slouch, your muscles and ligaments have trouble keeping you balanced which can cause postural inadequacies.

If you want an example of good posture, just look at a young child – their back shows a graceful ‘S’ curve and their movements are easy and natural. Bad habits such as slouching and inactivity set in as we get older, and cause muscle fatigue and tension that ultimately lead to poor posture. The difficulties which can be caused by poor posture include back pain, dysfunction of the spine, joint deterioration, and rounded shoulders.

Poor posture interferes with a number of the body’s postural mechanisms. Athletes/sportspeople engaged in training can be susceptible to this interference in areas such as:

‘Slow twitch’ and ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres

Skeletal muscles are made up of two types of muscle fibre – static (often called ‘slow twitch’) and phasic (often called ‘fast twitch’). The deeper muscle layers contain static muscle fibres. They help us to maintain posture without too much effort and contribute to balance by ‘sensing’ our position and relaying this information to the brain. Movement and activity use the phasic muscle fibres. Static fibres burn energy slowly and can keep working for a long time without tiring. Phasic fibres quickly run out of steam. Poor posture causes muscle fatigue – it calls on the phasic fibres instead of static fibres to maintain the body’s position.

Muscle strength and length

Over time, poor posture that demands support from phasic fibres causes the deeper supporting muscles to waste away from not being used. Weak, unused muscles tighten up and this shortening of muscle length can compact the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and worsen posture.

Feedback via the nervous system on the body’s position in space

The deeper layers of muscle are concerned with ‘sensing’ our position in space and relaying this information to our brain. If this is not functioning optimally, it is taken over by muscles that mainly contain phasic fibres, and the brain does not get a full picture. The brain assumes that the body needs to be propped up to counteract gravity, so it causes further muscle contraction. General fatigue and pain may be felt by the person with poor posture.

Good posture feels effortless, which is why traditional ‘good posture’ suggestions like throwing your shoulders back and sticking out your chest may cause discomfort.  Be attentive to your body and make small adjustments while standing and sitting.

In most cases, concentrating on other tasks (such as work) can direct attention away from any feelings of physical discomfort. Regularly tune into your body. If you feel muscle tension or fatigue, move into another position.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can improve your posture in day-to-day tasks

Practical suggestions for improving your general posture:

  • Partake in regular exercise and stretching.
  • Remember the rule of ‘curve reversal’ – for example, if you’ve been leaning over your desk, stretch back the other way.
  • Perform stretching exercises two or three times a week to boost muscle flexibility.
  • Exercise regularly to improve muscle strength and tone.
  • Turn your head side to side regularly to stretch your neck muscles.
  • Ensure your abdominal muscles are in good condition to support your lower back.
  • Do ‘plank’ exercises or ‘abdominal crunches’ (lie on your back and curl your ribcage and pelvis as close together as possible) rather than straight-backed sit-ups (which exercise the muscles of the hips and thighs).
  • When standing for long periods of time, make sure you are standing evenly balanced on both feet.
  • Avoid crossing your legs at the knee and cross at the ankle instead.
  • Maintain good posture.
  • Avoid sitting in soft, squashy chairs.
  • When driving the car and sitting in normal chairs, support your lower back with a lumbar roll.
  • If you are required to sit for long periods, use ergonomic chairs, in the office or the home.
  • Use a supportive mattress to keep your spine straight when lying on your side.
  • Use a pillow that supports your neck.
  • Use your thigh muscles for support when doing heavy lifting and keep your back straight at all times.
  • Tune into how your body feels.
  • Make sure your knees are relaxed and not locked, keep your head balanced and try not to tilt it sideways, backward or forward.

You can improve your posture and spinal health by making a few lifestyle adjustments. So make sure you practice good posture as improvements can be made at any age.

If you have any issues with your posture then please feel free to call the experts at South Yarra Spine & Sports Medicine (03) 9826 2122