You may have noticed that you aren’t standing, walking or sitting as straight as you should. Plus your back, neck and shoulders are beginning to ache – or even hurt – much of the time. Your bad posture is taking a toll on your entire body!
According to the back experts at the renowned Cleveland Clinic good posture is the “training of your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in a position that causes the least strain on the supporting muscles and ligaments of the back during movement and weight-bearing activities.”
Good posture offers many benefits including:
- the proper use of muscles
- proper alignment of bones and joints
- less stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together
- a decrease in arthritis due abnormal joint wear
- a better appearance
- less fatigue, muscles wear, backache, muscle pain and strain
If our posture is so important to our everyday health and well being, why do so many of us suffer with posture problems? One reason may be that we’ve been doing everything wrong for so long that we no longer recognize that there is a problem! Now that you better understand the many health benefits of better posture, it’s important to figure out how you have allowed your posture to suffer over the years.
There are four main categories of bad habits that most of us fall under which is directly contributing to our bad posture. Once you can identify which of these bad habits you’ve fallen into, you’ll be better able to find just the right exercises to fix your posture problems and eliminate the back pain you have been experiencing.
What are the four types of bad posture?
Another name for an increased curve of the upper back, Kyphotic Posture, features:
- a head that is thrust forward of the shoulders
- a hyper-extended neck
- protruding head (forward)
- a rounded shoulder appearance
- an increased curve of the upper back
- an increased forward curve of the lower back
- a forward-tilted pelvis
- bent hip joints
- hyper-extended knees
- an ankle angle of more than 90 degrees
If you notice one or more of these signs of Kyphotic Posture, you may want to consider adopting an exercise routine which includes exercises to strengthen the front neck muscles; the upper back muscles; oblique’s; and your hamstrings.
An increased curve of the lower back, Lordotic Posture (or Lorodosis) features:
- a forward tilting pelvis
- flexed hips
- a hyper-extended spine
- weakened abdominal muscles, hamstrings and glutes
These symptoms can cause lower back injuries in most people.
Some exercises which may help to strengthen muscles weakened by this type of posture problem include:
- standing military presses
- kneeling hip flexor stretches
- lower back stretches
- leg curls
A Flat Back
When the spine loses its normal curvature, Flat Back Syndrome occurs, leaving you looking stooped over, with an inability to stand up straight without severe pain. This is usually caused by severe arthritis of the spine or a previous spinal fusion operation.
Some of the most common exercises used to relieve the debilitating symptoms of flat back syndrome include:
- leg presses
- straight leg dead lifts
- hip flexors
- hamstring stretches
- abdominal stretches
A Sway Back
In the event your spine curves too far inward, you may suffer from swayback. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include:
- a pronounced inward curve of the lower back
- protruding buttocks
- no change in the curvature of the spine when bending
Since swayback is caused primarily by shortened muscles, the best types of exercises to try to treat it are those that help to stretch the back muscles, and hamstrings.
Diagnosing Your Posture Problems
The first step to diagnosing your own posture problems is to take a good hard look at the way you both stand and sit. The best way to do this is to look at yourself in a three way mirror (you know, those horrible ones found in the dressing room of your favorite department store). This is the best way to see what you’re doing wrong is from a variety of different angles.
When checking out your current posturing stance, here are some things to take special notice of:
- a protruding head
- a hunched forward stance
- rounded over shoulders
- tense shoulders, held close to the ears
- a potbelly
- knees locked back
- flat arches on the foot
- a large gap between your lower back and the wall when standing against it
- uneven paces between your individual shoulders and the wall
Experiencing any of these can be a warning sign that your posture is out of whack. Now that you see how you really look when standing and sitting, let’s take a moment to consider what good posture looks like.
When your spine and joints are in proper alignment you will notice the following when looking at yourself from the side:
- your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle all appear to be in a straight line
- your head is directly on top of your shoulders
- you do not slouch
- your shoulder blades lie flat against your back and appear straight and relaxed
- your knees remain unlocked
- your pelvic bones line up with our pubic bones
Is It Osteoporosis?
More than just a posture problem, Osteoporosis is a serious affliction which affects 10 million women in America alone, with an estimated 34 million at risk for the disease in the near future. Caused by low bone density, it is a degenerative condition which causes dangerous bone fractures and an often hunched over back and shoulder. Think that your poor posture could be the result of Osteoporosis? If so, you may have to undergo several types of testing to find out including:
- an initial physical exam
- various x rays that detect skeletal problems
- laboratory tests that reveal important information about the metabolic process of bone breakdown and formation
- a bone density test to detect low bone density.
Other Diagnostic Tools
Osteoporosis isn’t the only medical concern which may be affecting your posture and causing you back pain. In order to eliminate a more serious condition than poor posture, you may want to consider asking your doctor about one or more of the following tests:
When suffering from severe back pain and/or a change in your posture, your doctor may opt for a basic x-ray to see what’s going on. This is a great tool to determine if you have any old or new fractures in your spine
Bone Mineral Density Tests
A bone mineral density (BMD) test is the best way to determine your bone health. BMD tests can identify osteoporosis, determine your risk for fractures (broken bones), and measure your response to osteoporosis treatment.
A bone scan is used to highlight changes in the bones of your back which may indicate cancer, bone lesions, inflammation, or new fractures.
A number of laboratory tests may be performed on blood and urine samples. The results of these tests can help your doctor identify conditions that may be contributing to any bone loss you are experiencing and even some reasons for a sudden onset of pain. The most common blood tests evaluate:
- blood calcium levels
- blood vitamin D levels
- thyroid function
- parathyroid hormone levels
- estrogen levels
- follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) test to establish menopause status
- testosterone levels (in men)
As you can see, there are many things (including your posture) which can cause back pain and discomfort. While it is important to always eliminate a more serious condition, the odds are that your discomfort is a direct result of the way you stand and sit.
Instant Posture Relief
To begin your road to recovery, try this simple posture technique. It’ll help alleviate some of the discomfort you’ve been feeling and begin to teach your body how to fix its own posture problems:
- Step One: stand with your feet about 2-3 feet apart (about a hip-width. Do not lock your knees
- Step Two: pull your abdominal muscles in by pulling your belly button toward your back. Be sure not to hold your breathe.
- Step Three: lift the front of your ribcage up as if you were being pulled upward toward the sky.
- Step Four: Un-round your shoulders by rotating your arms into a hitchhiker position. To do this, press your shoulders down gently; pull your shoulder blades inward toward your spine; press them down and then roll your shoulders forward while relaxing your arms. You palms should be facing your thighs and your thumbs up.
- Step Five: stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling.
- Step Six: Relax, holding this position for a minute or two. Repeat.
Remember, if you have been holding your posture incorrectly for a long time, it will take awhile to re-train your muscles to stand and sit properly once again. This exercise is meant to help you begin the road to recovery while you retrain and strengthen your back and other muscles.