Good posture contributes to a healthy back.
Poor posture can be corrected.
Mothers have promoted good posture in their youngsters for generations. Why? Well, one reason, mothers always know what is best. And good posture is good for you, it's important. Despite this, rounded shoulders, hunched backs and the head forward look continue to be a problem. Modern advancements and lifestyle choices, may even contribute to the problem. In some parts of the world, jobs that required physical effort, continue to decline and the results are apparent. There is a continual deterioration of physical conditioning. Even as school systems eliminate or discourage physical education. A resulting epidemic of morbid obesity, comes as no surprise. At the other end of the spectrum, and for similar reasons, an equally large number have sacrificed, muscle tissue, bone density and good health, to the insane pursuit to be among the morbidly thin. This is successfully promoted by the popular media. Unhealthy images are portrayed as normal.This trend can be observed in numerous magazines, television commercials, movies and popular music. Please take an objective look at these super thin 'role models', you will notice almost all have developed, to varying degrees, the traditional stooped, rounded shoulders posture. This is an indication of poor health decisions and life style. You do not have too, and should not, follow their examples. It is unhealthy.
Fixing and maintaining good posture may be difficult; but not impossible! By making the effort, you will notice improvement, in appearance, your health and outlook.
It should be noted that, though rare in some circles, there are still jobs that require very hard physical labor. (Someone has to do it.) In time these laborers may experience a breakdown in the spinal column, due to degenerative disc disease and arthritis from over use. For some this may result in developing an excessive curve in their upper back, known as "structural kyphosis". This condition should always be diagnosed and treated by a qualified physician.
While some curvature in the upper (thoracic) and lower (lumbar) spine, is normal and necessary for good health. Excessive curvature should be corrected if possible. This article will focus on some simple things you can do, to correct bad posture. Again, we are talking about poor posture, called "postural kyphosis". If you have developed or inherited a more severe form of humped back, or "structural kyphosis" you may need to consult a medical specialist.
Here are some simple things you can do:
- Strengthen the muscles that keep your spine aligned; secure; and protected. Note: Even though we are primarily targeting poor upper back posture. Kyphosis may cause problems in the lower back. The body seeks to correct mis-alignment, by increasing the natural curve in your lower back (spine). This is called lordosis, or swayed back. This also happens in reverse, where a sway back may cause the upper back to compensate, and develop excessive kyphosis in order to maintain equilibrium. This should provide additional motivation to maintain correct posture. By doing so we gain a healthier back, and may stave off more serious problems down the road.
Exercise #1 - Lay on your back with your knees bent. Fold your arms on your chest. Keeping your head in a neutral position, contract the abdominal muscles and lift your shoulders just off the floor and return to the starting position. This is a crunch. Do these in sets of three, and insert the number of repetitions that coincide to your level of conditioning. Note: If you are deconditioned and cannot lift your shoulders off of the floor, (2 - 3 inches only), do not give up. Get in the starting position and just do contractions (tighten the muscles). Keep at it until you gain the strength needed to perform the required - "Abdominal Crunch." While most consider the "crunch" only for the stomach, strong abdominal muscles will help protect the lower back.
Exercise #2 - Lay on your stomach with your arms stretched out above your head. Alternate lifting your left arm/right leg and right arm/left leg. With each lift, hold it for five seconds then alternate. Again do these in sets of three with the number of reps determined by your level of conditioning. Note: If you do not have the muscle strength needed, again concentrate on the muscle contractions until you can perform these properly. This exercise is known by some as "Supermans".
Exercise #3 - Stand with your feet spaced shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Start with hands (fists) in front of your waist with arms slightly bent. Practice with no weights. Keep your head up and back - and contract (squeeze) you shoulder blades together. Now do a lateral raise (side raises) with your arms slightly bent - to shoulder level - keep your head straight and maintain the contraction in your shoulder blades throughout the lift - slowly - all the way up and all the way down. Pause at the bottom and repeat. Be deliberate and concentrate. You may give an extra contraction at the top of the movement to emphasize the squeeze in the shoulder blades. These are called "lateral raises". Body builders use these to build the middle part of the shoulders (deltoids). For our purpose we want to pull the shoulder blades back into proper alignment. This will help correct the rounded (protracted) shoulder, forward head position manifest in poor postural habits. (As an option and to put more emphasis on the middle part of the back. Squat down further and bend forward at the waist. Let your arms hang towards the floor. Lift your hands (fists) outward - away from the body - keeping your arms slightly bent. Keep your head up and again squeeze your shoulder blades together throughout the whole movement. Give an extra squeeze at the top of the movement. If done properly this is called a "reverse fly". Again our main goal is to get your shoulder blades to return (contract) to a flat position and not remain in a protracted position. This pulls the scapula back into position, and gets rid of the rounded, shoulders forward posture.) Add weight to these lifts as you gain confidence in the movements and conditioning.
Exercise #4 - This isn't exactly an exercise, but it can make you sore if over done. Obtain a foam roll of at least - 6 inches diameter and 36 inches long. You can get them at exercise stores or online. Amazon.com has a wide selection. Just remember to stick to the listed size. In a pinch you can sometimes come across a 4 inch x 36 inch foam roller that is sold as a pool toy. However most of these are the little 2 - 3 in diameter size, which is inadequate for this exercise. It should be firm. Position yourself lengthwise on the roll. Put your tailbone on one end and the back of your head on the other. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor for stability. Let your spine relax and stretch. Start slowly at first. Just do this for five minutes, every other day, for one week, and then slowly increase the time incrementally until you are able to stay in this position for at least fifteen minutes. If you over do this you might experience a sore upper back or even headaches. Note: If you are unable to touch the back of your head on the roll, discontinue and consult a qualified medical provider. The idea behind this is to slowly reposition your vertebrae and stretch out the supporting musculature and connecting tissue. Too often the focus is on the larger more superficial muscles when training. But there are all kinds of muscle groups surrounding and stabilizing the spine. It is hoped that we can get them to stretch and loosen a little bit to return the upper spine to a more normal curvature. Be consistent, this will take time. While laying on the foam roll, occasionally extend your arms out to get a stretch in the chest (pecs) and front of the shoulder (anterior deltoids) muscles. This will lengthen them and enhance your efforts to correct your posture. (Keep the foam roll out of reach of your dog(s) and cat(s).)
Exercise #5 - The foam roll can be placed under the neck to help it realign to a gentler, more natural curve. Again be careful, don't over do this. Be consistent, but do a little at a time, as tolerated. If you fall asleep on a neck roll or rolled up towel it can be counter productive and painful.
- Be mindful of your posture at all times. Stomach in - Shoulders back - Keep your head up. Stand tall and sit straight. Practice good body mechanics at all times.
- Add physical activity to your daily routine.
- At some point, moderate weight training can help you regain/maintain muscle mass and bone density. Both are necessary for a healthy spine.
As you implement these suggestions. Be persistent. Remember the amount of time you spent developing poor posture, will be a factor, in the time required to effect a positive change.