Juliana Kroese, PT, is a Phoenix physical therapy expert located at our Central Phoenix facility. She is here to explain posture and how we really should be sitting and standing:
“Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back.”
We’ve all heard adage in some shape or form in our lives, especially in our childhood. The truth is that even though their intent was good their direction was wrong.
Anyone who has tried standing straight and pulling their shoulders back, or walking around with a book on their head will notice they cannot hold it for long. In fact they may develop muscle strains in their upper back or neck while doing so. The reason we develop these problems is because humans are not designed to hold this posture for long. Our bodies are happier when we are in motion.
Unfortunately, many of our back problems stem from our posture. Pain and dysfunction of the neck, upper back and low back are deeply correlated to the way we move and maintain our spine. The way we align our body matters. If we optimize our movements for functional gains we can reduce back pain.
Overall, jobs and daily activities in society are geared forward bending and slumped posture. Once we maintain these positions we develop muscle imbalances. Certain muscles become short and tight while others are long and weak. None of our muscles actually gain strength when we succumb to gravity by standing or sitting in a chair.
So how should we sit or stand?
I give patients two simple poses that have helped them achieve better posture. One is called “Show your medal” and the other is “Give the chin a twin.” They might sound silly, but they have helped patients of mine learn how to properly align their bodies.
First, imagine you just won an Olympic medal. The medallion will rest on your chest bone, also known as your sternum. Now follow the simple instruction: “Show your medal,” meaning that you show your medal proud. By doing so you will lift your sternum up and out in front of you, while your upper back remains soft and relaxed. This is a small motion, but will be enough to lift you out of your slumped posture and into a correct spinal curve. You will feel your chest expand, making your breathing deeper, and you will feel your shoulders drop and relax ever so slightly away from your ears.
Second, I tell people to “Give the chin a twin.” Patients lightly tuck their chin down and lengthen the back of the neck while keeping their breathing soft. This will correct the forward positioning of the head, which can shortened the majority of the neck muscles and cause pain and dysfunction.
Before they know it, many of my patients say they find themselves practicing “Show your medal” and “Give the chin a twin” while brushing their teeth, waiting in line at the grocery store, talking on the phone, and working at their desk!
It is also important to realize changing your posture will take time. You are teaching your spine a new position that it has not been in for a long time, and it will tend to feel uncomfortable. My advice is to stick with it, but do so incrementally. Use small moments in time to work on your posture until it becomes a habit. By improving your posture you could significantly lessen your neck and back pain. Consult a physical therapist if you have questions about your posture and what you should be doing specifically to improve your back pain.
Our physical therapy experts like Juliana at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy know how to help all kinds of pain. If you have questions about chronic neck, upper back, or lower back pain and would like professional advice, make an appointment today! To learn more about Phoenix physical therapy at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy and what our certified therapists can do for you, check out the Foothills blog.