Postural Alignment Adjustment
What is posture? Posture is defined as a person’s physical alignment and stance. The way in which one holds and carries one’s body is due to many factors both intrinsic and extrinsic that can be either productive or counterproductive to one’s health. Our posture begins to form at an early age when we first start standing on two feet and gravity begins to pull down the length of our body. If you were to ask ten people what constitutes good posture, you would probably get ten different answers. Most people think good posture is simply pulling back the shoulder blades and head. Although this “military” stance addresses two components of good posture, it falls short in providing optimal full-body alignment. Optimal posture aligns our joints in the most biomechanical efficient manner. Biomechanically efficient posture takes the least amount of energy to maintain and move our joints.
In describing postural alignment, it is helpful to talk about an imaginary line that passes through the center of the body. This line is referred to as the body’s center of gravity line. Proper postural alignment occurs when this line passes through the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. When such body alignment is maintained, the muscles on the front and the back of the body share equally in counter-balancing gravity and keeping our bodies in an upright position. Good biomechanical posture allows our joints and muscles to function at their full potential and reduces the risk of injury and stress.
Maintaining proper postural alignment is not easy. There are many internal and external factors that can affect good posture. One of the common extrinsic factors affecting our posture is gravity. Gravity has a downward, compressing effect on the body, which contributes to rounding of the shoulders and anterior (forward) placement of the head in relation to the shoulders. Such posture is a common cause of chronic upper back, neck and headache pain. Another extrinsic factor affecting our posture is poorly designed workstations. As a result of poor workstation design, people often work in unhealthy, abnormal postures. This places the body’s joints in abnormal positions and over time may result in chronic pain or injury.
Other factors responsible for poor postural alignment are things that are intrinsic to our own body. One of the most common of these factors involves being overweight. As one gains weight, gravity tends to pull us forward. To compensate for such weight gain, an increase in the lower back’s curvature is created. Such compensation results in a “sway back “ posture that leads to further compensational changes of the upper back and neck areas.
Strength imbalances of the muscles needed to maintain proper postural alignment are another internal factor causing poor posture. Oddly, such muscular imbalances are not only seen in individuals who do not exercise enough, but also in individuals who exercise regularly. The latter is commonly seen in individuals who lift weights regularly, but do not work to maintain the normal balance of the body’s strength and flexibility from front to back. Therefore, when lifting weights or doing any kind of strengthening exercise, it is also important to strengthen the opposing or antagonist muscles in order to maintain proper balance and posture.
The “wall test” can be used to assist in the evaluation of your own posture. Standing with your back and heels two inches away from a wall begins this test. Next, press your lower back, shoulders and neck to the wall. While maintaining this posture, move away from the wall and hold this position for a few seconds, then relax back into your “old” posture. If, upon relaxing, you maintain approximately the same body alignment, then you already have fairly good posture. However, if you experience a large change in your alignment, then you have some work to do. Poor posture is the most common cause of chronic back pain. If left untreated, it can lead to other problems including headaches and shoulder pain and even premature degenerative joint problems.