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Posture: A Key Area of Neglect

Most of us don't think about posture. And most of us have terrible posture. When we were kids, our parents told us to stand up straight and sit up straight. At the same time, some famous people seemed so cool with their rebel slouches. The idea of standing military ramrod straight just didn't have much appeal.

So, there's some disagreement on the aesthetics of standing up straight. Or is there? We want to look our best. And we all know that the ability to project confidence is a real asset. Slouching will not get you there. Nor will it make you look taller. But it will get you on the wrong side of basic biomechanics. And that's where the real argument for good posture begins.


Perform a biceps curl and think of how you are able to raise that weight. Your body is basically using a cable and pulley system--with your muscles as the cables and your joints as the pulleys. Your body also uses other mechanical systems, such as springs, to allow you to move.

All mechanical systems rely on proper alignment for proper performance. When things are out of alignment, you lose mechanical strength to perform the movement. You also reduce the mechanical integrity of the parts used to perform the movement, and we'll get to that concept in a bit.

Your back serves as the center or anchor point for most of your movement. To maximize your ability to curl a weight, for example, you can must develop the musculature in your back. This is why people who do pull-ups and chin-ups can curl more than people who rely purely on curling for training.

If your back is rounded forward, skewed along the vertical axis, or out of alignment in any other way, you lose mechanical strength.

You could test this by:

  • Slouch forward and curl a weight that you consider heavy.
  • Have a chiropractor adjust your back and that slouch.
  • Curl the weight immediately after the adjustment (bring it with you to the chiropractor).

You should notice a nice gain in strength after the adjustment. But guess what? Your muscles didn't get any stronger. Your posture got better. This means your alignment was better, allowing your muscles and ligaments to work without the "binding" or "counterfriction" your bad posture was providing. But there's another issue, too--and we'll look at that next.


In the preceding experiment, you may have also gained strength because the posture adjustment relieved a nerve issue. Nerves emanate from the spine--where your spinal cord runs. When you slouch, stoop, or have an uncorrected injury---your back is out of alignment. That can irritate the nerves, causing them to "misfire" or simply produce pain. The result is weakness, sometimes to a profound degree.

Your back "floats" in its alignment, so it's frequently out of alignment to some degree throughout the day. Thus, you need to make a conscious effort to restore it to its balanced state.

Provided your back gets to a balanced state to begin with, you can probably do a fairly good job of keeping it that way without intervention--which is why good chiropractors prefer to have you on an inexpensive monthly maintenance program rather than have you come in constantly for unneeded adjustments.

If you are on a monthly maintenance program, a few simple tests can point out what part of your back needs a bit more adjustment than you can handle yourself. Those tests involve your resisting, typically at an odd angle, against a pressure. When you fail the test, you get an adjustment and try again--and the results are remarkable. Why? Because the nerve issue has been resolved.

But let's not confine our thinking to muscular power. Your nerves also carry vital messages to and from your vital organs. The Chinese long ago mapped out the nerves in the hands and feet corresponding to particular organs. A nerve dysfunction can lead to health issues with any or all of your internal organs--including your heart and your brain.


Slouching vs. pain

People who have spinal or hip pain due to osteoarthritis tend to slouch. This temporarily eases the pain. But in a short time, it makes matters worse. Your bones are constantly changing. The body absorbs existing bone and lays down new bone daily.

The pattern of the new bone material relies on the pattern of the old bone material--but that, unfortunately, includes any structural anomalies. When joints have lost their protective soft tissue lining (now you have arthritis), the body adds new bone in the joint. Slouching puts more pressure on the joint, resulting in more bone being laid down there. This results in more arthritis and more pain. The only way to break this painful cycle is to stop the slouching.

How to?

So, how do you achieve good posture? Well, what moves your bones into the positions they are in? Your muscles. And if your muscles and ligaments are slack, how will your posture be? Here are some tips for developing the muscles you need for good posture:

  • Develop strong core muscles. You can do this only through intense exercise involving the major muscle groups. Squats, deadlifts, and uphill hiking are all excellent core muscle builders.
  • Develop symmetrically. Playing racquetball is great cardio exercise. But if you play with the same hand all the time, you'll develop one side of your body far more than the other. Make sure you develop your body parts with symmetry in mind.
  • Work the right muscles. Many men bench press with the idea that the more they can press, the "stronger" they are. This is not true. Most bench-pressing men--somewhere in the neighborhood of 98%--pronate their shoulders. So they overwork their front deltoids and stretch their rear deltoids and related connective tissue out of shape. This results in a shoulder imbalance that leads to dislocation or torn rotator cuffs. To work the right muscles, design your weight training program around "real life" motions. Look at an iron worker, and you see someone with large rear deltoids. Picking up rebar from the ground will do that.

The straight spine

First develop your muscles so they can properly support your efforts to keep your body in proper alignment. Then, work on having a straight spine. This involves looking at your spine from the front, from the side, and across the top.

  • Across the top. Most people have a shoulder rotation problem. That is, their shoulders are rotated inward. This may occur because the rear deltoids are weak, the muscles in the upper back are weak, or the muscles in the front chest have been overtrained in relation to the rest of the body. And it can also be due simply to inattention--quite often the case when sitting. Pull those shoulder back. The centerline of each shoulder should be over your corresponding hip.
  • From the side. Your back should have a smooth S curve in it. Have someone hold up a straightedge and see if the following are in alignment on that edge: ear lobes, shoulder, hip joint, ball of ankle. If all of these points do not line up, you may not have a serious problem. But if you can't line them up under your own power, then you do have a serious problem and you need chiropractic intervention before it gets worse.
  • From the front (or rear). Keep your shoulders level--rather than allowing one to droop or rise in relation to the other.

The methods we just discussed can help you avoid major posture issues. But they cannot and do not substitute for a posture analysis. A licensed chiropractor can properly assess your posture.

Some posture "tricks"

One key to good posture is to remember to "suck in that gut and stick out that chest." Don't let your chest slouch forward or your belly just hang. If you do, your back will let you know in very certain terms that you have a problem. It may not let you know right away, but when it does it will have your full attention. Here are some tricks to help you keep it quiet:

  • Sleep on your side or back, not on your stomach.
  • If sleeping on your side, use a body pillow to support the leg on top.
  • Don't lean to one side. Many people do this without being aware of it.
  • When sitting, keep your shoulders over your hips--not over your thighs.
  • To fight "shoulder creep"--where your shoulders seem to rotate forward of their own accord, simply raise them toward your ears and shrug them down and back.
  • Pay attention to how you walk. In fact, bring an old pair of shoes to a podiatrist (foot doctor) or a chiropractor. The wear pattern can be quite revealing. Knee pain, neck pain, headaches, and back pain can all result from problems with your gait. Note that most people "fall forward" rather than walk. Taking a dance or martial arts class will help you correct this problem. If you have ever fallen when stepping on to ice or another slippery surface, take the class.

The important thing to remember from all of what you read here is to develop good habits and to get proper assessment to correct the deficiencies. Don't get upset if your posture isn't perfect all the time. Your body can handle some imbalance. Limit that imbalance through good habits and proper care, and you and your back should remain on good terms for a long time. You'll be stronger and look better, too.

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