Posture is one of those things that we all know we need to work on.
It is likely that you read the title of this blog and sat up a little straighter in an attempt to improve your posture when as you started reading.
For most of us, we sit up straight for 2 minutes, then gradually return to a familiar slouch.
But what changes should you be making to improve your posture, and how do you make those changes stick even when you’re not thinking about it?
Why Your Posture Matters
When you slouch in your chair or stand with poor posture, you put extra strain on your joints and force your muscles to work harder.
Take your neck, for example.
If you sit with your head’s center of gravity aligned over the spine, your neck muscles need to do very little work.
Now compare this to looking down at your phone as you would when checking your email or social media.
The muscles in your neck now take on the extra strain of holding your head in that position.
Sitting and standing with proper posture can also help with the daily functions your body is performing autonomically.
Try This Physical Experiment Right Now…
Slouch your shoulders and head forward, looking down towards your lap, then try to take a deep breath.
Now take a deep breath while sitting up tall and pulling your shoulders back.
The deep breath becomes much easier, and your lungs can take in more air.
The body is much more fluid, and the muscle and tendons of the diaphragm are more harmonious, not working against the natural function.
For some conditions, such as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Upper and Lower Crossed Syndromes, or shoulder impingements, taking steps to improve your posture can make all the difference in your recovery from these cases.
Changing your neck and shoulder posture in cases like this can significantly reduce the pain you are feeling and help you take a step in the right direction when recovering from conditions like these.
How to Improve Your Posture on Your Own
No one’s posture is perfect.
Even chiropractors struggle to maintain form and devote conscious energy toward improvement.
It takes time to create bad postural habits.
It takes some time and awareness to make meaningful corrections.
The recommendation is to begin with one or two corrections and add more as you gain mastery and the positions become natural.
But changing one or two of these postural corrections can go a long way in your journey to recovery.
Here are a few easy things you can implement into your daily routine to fix or improve your posture.
Let’s start with the upper body.
One of the best changes you can make is to pull your shoulder blades back and together and relax your shoulders down away from your ears.
Remember, this is the position you should work toward maintaining at all times.
For some people, this can prove difficult to hold for long periods in the beginning.
The more you work on it, the easier it will become.
Start by holding your head and chest in this corrected position for a minute at a time to help build endurance.
You may be surprised how much of a difference a few minutes a day can make.
Another thing to work on is your head position.
You want your ear in line with your shoulder (when your shoulders are pulled back, as we discussed above).
Enlist the help of a friend and have them check from the side to let you know if your head is in the correct position.
The lower body is also critical to overall posture, body alignment, and balance.
It’s essential to have a neutral pelvis to help support the low back when you are standing.
To find where that neutral pelvis is for you, place your hands on your hips, roll your hips all the way forward, then back.
Your neutral pelvis will be in between those two points.
Holding your hips in this neutral position will help support your low back.
How to Make Your Postural Corrections Stick
A recurring comment from my patients I often hear from my patients is…
“I try to fix my posture, but I always seem to go right back to slouching. Why don’t my corrections stick?”
Standing up straighter and making the corrections I discussed above is a great place to start.
If you want the corrections to stick and to truly improve your posture, it’s important to train your muscles to hold you in those corrected positions.
Here are some of the muscles we commonly see get weak or too tight with poor posture and a few exercises to help strengthen these areas.
Strengthening the Upper Body
In most people, we see a postural change called Upper Crossed Syndrome .
This condition consists of a series of weak muscles positioned across from muscles that have become very tight.
For the upper body, we usually see the muscles in the chest and the back of the neck become tight, and the muscles in the front of the neck and the upper back become weak.
This creates the forward head position and the forward rounded shoulders we associate with slouching or poor posture.
You can help your shoulder posture by performing a pectoral stretch in a door frame.
Place your elbow against the door frame and step forward slightly to stretch the front of the chest.
This is an area that often becomes tight when we sit or stand with our shoulders slouched.
Whether working from home or in an office situation, it is great to take a few breaks and perform this simple stretch to promote correct posture and save yourself neck and back pain in the future.
Strengthening the Back
In addition to stretching out the chest, it is essential to strengthen the back muscles, specifically rhomboid major and minor located between your shoulder blades.
Rowing exercises are great for strengthening this area.
Another great exercise is the Brugger Exercise.
Keep your elbows at your sides and forearms bent to a ninety-degree angle, move your hands out away from your body and pinch your shoulder blades together, then relax and return to your starting position.
Strengthening the Lower Body
Just like the upper body, we see the same phenomenon of weak muscle groups crossing tight muscle groups in the lower body.
This Lower Crossed Syndrome consists of weak abdominal and glute muscles, tight back muscles, and hip flexors.
Working on these areas will help you sustain the postural changes you are trying to make.
Sitting and standing with poor posture can often lead to tight hip flexors and quad muscles.
These tightened muscles can make it challenging to keep that neutral pelvis we mentioned above.
Stretches like a runner’s lunge or a standing quad stretch can help lengthen those muscles.
In addition to stretching out those quads, you also want to strengthen your glutes.
Glute Bridges are an excellent exercise for this.
Remember, for a glute bridge, you want your heels close to your glutes to start.
Strengthening the Abdomen
Lastly, the core and abdominal muscles.
As I said above, they tend to be weak when we stand with poor posture.
Working on your core strength can help you hold yourself with proper posture for longer and has the added benefit of helping to stabilize your low back.
Working these core and lower body exercises will help you maintain the neutral pelvis position we discussed above.
Chiropractors Can Help Improve Your Posture
Chiropractors are taught many of the fine details that go into perfect posture .
The next time you see your chiropractor, ask them to demonstrate some of these techniques we’ve discussed to improve your posture.
Chiropractic care can also help improve your range of motion and isolate chronic daily repetition activities that lend to your poor posture habits.
If you find that sitting up straighter is causing neck or back pain, getting an adjustment from a chiropractor might relieve some of that pain and provide a baseline reference for posture and motion.