Posture, Posture, Posture
by John Diaz
Are you still somewhat traumatized from all those years of having a parent or teacher telling them to quit slouching and stand or sit-up straight? I still remember in Catholic school having nuns include posture grades in our report cards. For reasons I will cover shortly this could be some of the best advice we received in our early years.
At some point and time most if not all of us will complain about acute or chronic neck and back pain. My personal neck and back issues stem from an active life. Martial arts training since I was 10 and playing tackle-football might have started it for me. Then there was the excessive heavy weight training when in my late teens and twenties I measured some of my self-worth by how much I benched pressed. At the time I thought it was great that I could bench press double my weight and squat more than two and a half times it all naturally. What I didn’t know or care about at the time was that the joints in my spine didn’t find it so amusing. Slowly, but surely they were starting to change. Throw in a few mountain-biking falls and you’ve got a recipe for spinal disease.
Desk warriors take heart. Years of riding a desk while battling economic ebbs and flows can lead to bad posture which in turn leads to a type of chronic use injury. Whether it’s the head forward position common in computer use or slouching in a chair without back support this position puts uneven pressure on the joints in your back. This pressure causes the discs that work as cushions between the vertebrae to compress more on one side or edge. When the disc compresses like this some of the fluid that exists in the disc gets forced out. It is this fluid that keeps the disc plumb, nurtured and healthy. Without the fluid the disc begins to desiccate and lose height. As the disc dries out excess compressive forces start to cause changes such as bulges or hernias, foraminal narrowing (the canals where the nerves exit the spine) bone spur formation, facet arthritis, etc. Whereas our parents and teachers maybe didn’t quite know the mechanics involved they did know that it was unattractive and made one look inattentive and lazy.
Have you been diagnosed with a bulging disc or maybe you have daily back pain, it’s not too late to make things better. Firstly, mostly everyone has bulging discs; we live in a gravity world after all. The thing is most disc bulges are small or not in an area that cause symptoms. Even those that are symptomatic get better over time. The need for surgery is very rare.
What You Can Do
Probably the single most important thing to start healing is to improve your posture. This is true also to prevent a problem from occurring in the first place. By improving your posture the forces on your discs will even out allowing more fluids to be sucked into the disc itself essentially rehydrating it. As it rehydrates it plumps up increasing spacing, reducing bulging and bringing in needed nutrients to heal.
Proper posture means your ears should be directly aligned over your shoulders. A good postural check would be to stand against a wall. Your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades and head should be in contact with the wall. If this is not the case we have some work to do.
1) Chin Retraction: Stand while looking in the mirror. Chest should be up not slouched. Place your hand on the front of your neck just above the collarbones. Tense your neck. The big muscles you feel are the sternocleidomastoids and not the ones you want to train. Important: these muscles must not be tensed when doing this exercise. With a level gaze pull your chin back slowly without tilting the head. This will create a double chin effect. The motion requires pulling from the muscles at the base of the scull. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Do 2 sets. After several sessions this exercise can be done against a pillow either while lying or standing.
2) Scapular Retraction: Stand straight, chest up, head level. With your arms hanging at your sides, squeeze your shoulders blades together and down. Hold for a count of 5. Repeat 10 times. Do 2 sets. This can be down using a resistance band for greater effort.
3) Dead Bugs: Lie down on your back and bend your hips and knees to 90% with your arms straight down to your sides. Press your low back down into contact with the floor and pull your belly button in toward the spine as you tighten the abdominal muscles. Take a deep breath pushing the air down toward your pelvis as you raise your right arm overhead and lower and extend your left leg toward the floor. As you exhale return to starting position. Repeat on other side. Do 10 reps on each side. Do 2 sets.
Performing these exercises 3-4 times a week will retrain your neck and back support muscles. You will begin to experience a better posture and over time less pain and stiffness. A good posture can make you look taller, younger and more vibrant. Now who doesn’t want that?