Updated: Sep 1, 2019
I am sure you are familiar with the look: head jutting forward,
shoulders slumped, rounded upper back. This is the classic head forward
posture. This posture is often a result of long hours at the computer,
driving, traveling, or combination of the three. It is associated with severe
neck pain, upper back pain, and limited range of motion of the shoulders,
neck, and arms, migraines and headaches, and TMJ. Needless to say, it is
at the root of many pain patterns, so what’s at the root of it?
Let’s look at the common seated posture: Ideally we are seated
evenly on a supportive surface with lumbar support. However, even in the
best scenarios, as we tire, our lower back rounds, tightening the lower
back, lateral hip rotators, glutes, hip flexors and shortening psoas.
Because our cervical spine (C1-C7: the part of your spine from your skull
to the bump near the top of your shoulders) curve mirrors our lumbar curve
(L1-L5), when the back rounds under, the neck rounds forward. As the
front of the hips and abdomen passively contract, so does the front of the
neck, drawing the head out over the chest and body and the shoulders up
like a turtle retracting into its shell. Go ahead, try it. Sit up nice and tall,
relax, take a nice big breath. Now, round the lower back. Notice what
happens to your neck, head and shoulders?
Imagine over time, day after day, how sitting in this stance can mold
your body into such a shape. If you’re having difficult conceptualizing this,
think about people who practice yoga, or go to the gym. The repetitive
motions they perform form their posture as muscles lengthen, shorten and
strengthen, and that’s only an hour or two at the gym! Think of the impact
that 8 hours a day curled over your computer has on the muscles of your
back, neck, shoulders and arms!
Now, let’s talk muscles. As the muscles in the front of the neck
contract, or shorten, they pull the neck forward and tighten the muscles in
the back of the neck and shoulders causing strain and pain. With the
tightening of the musculature, decreased circulation, nerve impingement
and trigger point formation may occur. This can contribute to or cause
migraines, TMJ, tingling and numbness in arms and hands, and upper and
lower back problems.
To minimize or help reverse the effects of sustained poor posture
there are a number of small changes you can make:
- At work, incorporate small breaks throughout your day. If you
have a desk job, take a 60-second mental break every 20-30
minutes; take your mind off the task at hand, close your eyes and
enjoy a few deep breaths. Take and a 2-3 minute body break
every 60-90 minutes; get up, stretch, and/or walk to the restroom.
These small breaks will help break up the day and lessen the
effects of long-term holding patterns.
- Stretch, do yoga, go for a walk or go to the gym. Any or all of
these will help to keep you moving, and loosen and strengthen
muscles that may have become stiff or ridged through out the
day. If you are unfamiliar with exercise routines there is ample
information on the Internet, and most gyms have personal
trainers that are willing and able to guide you in learning how to
use weight machines properly.
- Explore alternative therapies. Chiropractic may be able to
address issues of misalignment in the body, help to improve
posture and, over time, relieve nerve compression and pain.
Massage may help to loosen tight muscles and connective
tissues that are contributing to pain patterns and allow fuller
range of motion, lower blood pressure and heart rate. Physical
Therapy can help to strengthen weakened or atrophied parts of
the body; a strong foundation allows for a stronger more flexible
Speak to treatment of areas that are causing the pain, not just the areas
that feel painful. This will make you feel better in the long run.