By Roisin Woodsford
Joseph Pilates, the founder of the Pilates method once said
“If your spine is stiff at 30 you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young.”
Did you know that one of the biggest contributors to the health of your spine is your posture? Most of us aren’t aware of our posture but we are certainly aware of any back pain that we might have. Posture can be defined as the position of the parts of the body in relation to one another, whether the body is static (standing still) or dynamic (moving). In a healthy static posture the bones and joints are optimally aligned so that minimal stress is placed on the bones, joints, ligaments and muscles. A healthy static posture creates a good foundation for healthy movement.
So, what are the effects of poor posture on the spine?
With poor posture there is faulty alignment of bones and joints placing unnecessary stress on the
muscular and skeletal system which could lead to pain and even disability. Muscles work in groups to create movement of the bones and each muscle has an opposing one that performs the opposite action; which is why it is important for muscles to be at their correct length. When muscles are balanced in this way, strength and flexibility are equally matched. If joints are not held in the correct place over the long-term, some muscles may become shorter and stronger whilst others may become stretched and weak. As the muscles adapt, it becomes easier to hold your body in these unnatural positions and it starts to feel normal. With faulty posture comes faulty movement patterns, and when repeated they are stored in your memory...
The spine should have three gentle, normal curves, but muscle imbalances may cause loss or variation in these curves which reduces the spine’s ability to act as a shock absorber. This could increase stress on the spine, making injury more likely (and it also speeds up the ageing process!). Poor posture may also mean that your internal organs are not in their natural positions which could affect their ability to function normally.
How you can improve your posture?
The most significant factors affecting posture in our modern world are our sedentary lifestyles and the repetitive activities that we do. If you consider that we are spending 8 hours a day in our particular jobs in the same position for years and years, it is easy to understand why our body gets used to these positions. For example; technology is playing an increasingly large role in our lives and consequently our postures - we slouch forward and hang our heads to look at computer screens, television or smartphones (tech-neck!).
Fortunately, there are many things you can do now to start improving your posture:
- Be aware of your own posture and of what ideal postural alignment should be - People rarely have ideal postures as our bodies are all different but when we repeatedly try to achieve ideal postural alignment, over time it becomes automatic.
- Assess your lifestyle – look at the ergonomics of your working environment and your activities during the day and try to improve them - Try to adopt a better position when sitting and don’t sit down for long periods of time. Move around every so often, even if you are sitting properly in ‘correct alignment’.
- Keep moving as much as possible – as mentioned above, sitting for too long may cause you to hold your spine in unnatural positions, exercise will increase the mobility in your spine and will help to rebalance your muscles – strengthening muscles that have become weak and stretching muscles that have become tight. Pilates is great for your posture and your spine because it does all of the above and teaches good body mechanics.
- Consider your clothing - High heels are not great for your posture as they increase the curve in your lower back. Similarly tight clothing may restrict free movement. Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder can also lead to imbalances in your posture, so use rucksacks (and use both straps!).
- Try manual therapies - such as massage or chiropractic. They can help release stiffness, reduce pain, and correct alignment.
These are all things you can do to help you get a Happy Posture and a Healthy Spine! You can also join me on the 14th of July for a two hour Pilates workshop where you will be introduced to the fundamentals of postural analysis. You will learn how you can personally improve your own posture through: awareness, lifestyle changes and exercises that correct muscle imbalances and promote healthy functional movement. This workshop is open to all levels (beginners absolutely welcome!).
Come and learn how improving your posture could improve your quality of life.
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