“Perfect posture, perfect posture, do not slump.” These were the words to an old-timey tune popular many years ago and says something about the importance of good posture. The tune may be outdated, but the message still holds today. Body alignment matters!
Unfortunately, posture problems have never been as prevalent as they are today. Rising rates of obesity, inactivity, and overuse of technology are the biggest contributors to this epidemic. How many people do you know who wake up in the morning, drive to work, sit all day in an office chair, head home, and then sit some more? Plus, the majority of the population still doesn’t meet the minimal exercise guidelines either. Too much sitting throws off body alignment.
Why does posture matter? Your body alignment impacts everything that you do, how functional you are in your daily life, your risk of injury when you exercise, and even your health. For example, problems with alignment in the cervical, or neck region, is associated with headaches. Postural issues are can also bring on back pain.
Do you suffer from posture problems? We aren’t always a good judge of our own posture as we can’t see how we sit and stand, so you can have posture-related issues and not even know it. What are some of the most common posture-related problems and what can you do about them?
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Anterior pelvic tilt is one of the most common posture-related problems, thanks to the amount of sitting most people do. Normally, you should have only a slight curvature in your lumbar or lower back region. With anterior pelvic tilt, the pelvis tilts too far forward and this creates an exaggerated curvature of the lower back. An anterior pelvic tilt can add ten pounds visually to your body as the lower abdomen sticks out due to the exaggerated forward projection of the pelvis. The buttocks are also more prominent with an anterior pelvic tilt.
How do you know if you have this problem? Position yourself against a wall so that your shoulders and buttocks are aligned with it. Make sure your heels are about two inches from the wall. Now, slide your hand between your lower back and the wall. How snuggly does your hand fit? If you have normal posture, your hand should feel tight within the crevice. But, if you have an anterior pelvic tilt, you can freely move your hand around due to the forward tilt of the pelvis. In addition, an anterior pelvic tilt is associated with strength imbalances. In this case, the muscles in the front of your thighs and pelvis, the hip flexors, are overly tight, and the extensors, including your hamstrings and glutes, are weak. This type of strength imbalance is an ideal set-up for injury.
What causes anterior pelvic tilt? As mentioned, it is often a product of too much sitting. Sitting causes hip flexors to tighten and extensors (glutes and hamstrings) to lengthen. This creates a forward tilt of the pelvis that can lead to lower back pain. The way to remedy it is to strengthen the opposing muscles, the glutes, and hamstrings, and stretch tight hip flexors. Also, reduce the amount of time you spend sitting. Correct the imbalance with appropriate stretching and strengthening as left unchecked, anterior pelvic tilt places you at risk of lower back, hip, and knee pain.
Forward Tilting Head
This is a posture problem that also stems from too much sitting and from bending your head down to type, read, or look at a handheld device. Due to its association with handheld devices and our constant need to be using them, it’s sometimes referred to as “text neck.” When you tilt your head forward too much, the muscles in the back of the neck become tighter and less flexible.
How do you know if you have a forward tilting head? Ask someone to assess your head and neck from the side. Normally, your earlobe should be even with your AC joint in your shoulder. You should be able to draw an invisible line from the earlobe to the AC joint. If you have a forward tilt, the earlobe will be too far forward. Another way to tell is to stand with your back touching a wall and your heels pressed against it. Your buttocks should also be touching the wall. Is the back of your head against the wall as well? If not, your head is tilted too far forward.
To correct this problem, make sure your computer monitor is placed so that the top part of the screen is level with your eyes. When you sit, make sure you have good neck and back support When you use a handheld device, hold it at eye level. This will keep you from looking down.
One of the most effective exercises for correcting a forward tilting head is the chin tuck exercise. It’s best to see a demonstration, so look for a quick YouTube video that demos this exercise. To do one, hold your head straight while looking straight ahead. Now, gently pull your head and chin back until you feel a slight stretch in your neck. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and return to the starting position. Do 8 to 10 reps several times a day.
Rounded shoulders are similar to a forward tilting head and are associated with the same lifestyle habits – bending the head forward to look at a device and sitting too long. When you strength train, doing a high ratio of chest pressing exercises, like bench press, without balancing your workout with pulling exercises can worsen the problem. When you have rounded shoulders, the muscles in your chest are overly tight and inflexible, while the opposing postural muscles in the back are weak.
How do you know if you have rounded shoulders? Have someone assess your posture. Stand up straight and let your hands fall to your side. In this position, which way are your thumbs pointing? If you have normal alignment, your hands should align naturally with your body and face toward you with your thumbs pointing to the front. If you have rounded shoulders, your hands are more likely to face behind you and your thumbs will point inward.
What can you do about rounded shoulders? Stretch the tight muscles in your chest to lengthen them and increase flexibility and strengthen the muscles in your upper back by doing pulling exercises for your upper body. One simple exercise to stretch tight chest muscles is a doorway stretch. Place one arm and elbow on each side of a doorway frame. Then slowly step through the doorway holding this position until you feel a pull. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
The Bottom Line
Now, you know some of the most common posture problems and how they impact your health and daily functioning. Hopefully, you also have a better idea of how to manage them as well!
Man Ther. 2011 Dec;16(6):646-8. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2011.04.006. Epub 2011 Jun 11.
NHS Choices. “Common posture mistakes and fixes”