Once upon a time, not that long ago… posture was thought to be something viewed entirely externally and in a static position. Where if your ears weren’t in line with the outside tip of your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle (shown below) – you had “bad posture”. These assessments are known as plumb line assessments, and unfortunately are a very limited way of looking at and addressing posture. Have you ever heard the sayings “keep your chest proud”, “keep your head up and chin back”, “keep your shoulder blades squeezed” as it relates to “improving” your posture? Well, I’m here to tell you that understanding and addressing posture runs a lot deeper than that!
Let’s start off by defining what posture really is…
“Posture is a reflection of the position of many systems that are regulated, determined and created through limited functional patterns. These patterns reflect our ability and inability to breathe, rotate and rest, symmetrically with the left and right sides of our body.” – Ron Hruska Founder of the Postural Restoration Institute.
Too complicated? Let’s simplify…
Posture is really about movement variability. Do we have the ability to alternate and reciprocate with both sides of our body and do we have access to different positions and movement patterns?
It’s important to note, your posture alone is not the cause of your pain. However, being stuck in a certain posture without the ability to assume others, can certainly contribute to pain. So before putting on that posture brace you found on sale on amazon which promised you better posture and no pain, understand that being stuck in any posture for extended periods of time comes with its own set of consequences.
When working on improving your posture and creating this movement variability, you’re giving overworked and overused muscles the break they’ve been looking for. You’re giving underworked muscles the leverage to better engage and help out the previously overused muscles. You’re decompressing and taking pressure off joints, and creating new ways for your body to move and function in a better position!
Sound like something you might be interested in?
Let’s discuss one of the main players involved in improving our “posture” and giving us that movement variability we so desire. What’s your guess? I’ll give you a clue… It’s not our scapular stabilizers. It’s our diaphragm!
What is the diaphragm?
It’s our primary muscle of inspiration. It’s located centrally in our body, attaches behind our ribs and attaches down to our lumbar (low back) spine. When we inhale the diaphragm comes down, flattens out and pulls air into our body. As this happens the ribs expand and flare out. As we exhale the opposite happens, it returns back up into a domed position ready for the next inhale. And the ribs retract and come back in.
At least, this is what should happen… unfortunately, it’s not always this simple. Due to the demands and activities of everyday life, we tend to adopt an “inhaled” position. Where our diaphragm remains in a descended and flattened position, with our ribs flared.
How does this affect me?
Well, when the diaphragm stays in this contracted position, it’s job of helping you inhale becomes more challenging. Rather than doing what it was intended to do, it becomes a stabilizer of the spine and pulls you into extension (back arched). Your diaphragm now needs to recruit some assistance to help you inhale. This is where your body starts to compensate. This compensation comes in the form of overworked neck muscles and low back muscles. You have now successfully become stuck in an extended position or “posture”. Does this mean you’re destined for a lifetime of pain and discomfort? No. Not necessarily… BUT now your movement variability suffers because you’re biased into an extended posture. Loss of movement variability = restrictions, limitations and compensations.
This extended posture has implications on the position or “postural orientation” of our ribcage, spine, and pelvis. In turn, these have implications on other structures and muscles they interact with.. Such as at the neck, shoulders, hips, knees, etc.
What are the main ingredients we want to restore our diaphragm to its normal function and regain movement variability?
We want to find some hamstrings, deep abdominals, serratus and some nice, long exhales.
Vague. I know. We are all unique in the way we present and compensate, so getting assessed will be the quickest and most efficient way to restore YOUR movement variability.
Best part about making “posture” your priority??
You don’t have to give up anything! You can add repositioning/breathing exercises into your warm-up, cool-down, or any time of the day without taking away from the activities you love. The only thing you’ll be giving up is all the tension, tone and restrictions you’ve been living with.
If you’re looking to move better, feel better and perform better – don’t wait until you’re in severe pain to make a change.