Updated: May 5
“Sit up straight,” is one of the most common phrases that we’ve all heard and may even be tired of hearing. Poor posture is an issue for most and it’s only getting worse. Did you know that back problems cost U.S. employers roughly $7 billion per year (in 2017)? This can be attributed to losses in productivity, lost workdays, and injuries that are caused by back pain which is a direct consequence of poor posture. Many jobs require sitting at a desk, in a hunched-over position that leads to back problems. Whether we’re staring down at our phone screen or our computer, we tend to get a rounded back, leading to poor posture. These factors, combined with a lack of daily exercise, can make this problem even more prevalent. It’s important to understand the causes of poor posture as well as rehabilitation exercises that can improve your posture and back pain associated with it.
Often, these issues are due to tight muscles that are developed throughout sitting, or sedentary behavior, over time. A potential root of the problem is caused by tight hips, especially the hip flexors that force the entire torso to be in a hunched over position. Over time, sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten up, which essentially pulls on other bodily structures that it’s attached to such as the spine and knees.
Likewise, a slouched position can be created by tight chest and shoulder muscles. Sitting down and/or staring down at your phone only reinforces this issue, which puts the shoulders and upper torso into a hunchback, or internally rotated, position. In severe cases, individuals will experience extreme kyphosis, which is an excessive outward curve of the mid-back.
Another common problem that may affect your posture is your strength of core muscles. The abdominals, lower back extensors, pelvis, and the glutes make up your core, which helps stabilize the rest of your body. The core is the direct link between one’s upper and lower body, and if these muscles are weak, you’ll often notice yourself slouching. Additionally, mid-back muscles play a critical role in having good posture. It’s important to keep these muscles strong so they can support the rest of your body.
Fortunately, it’s almost never too late to start improving your posture by practicing good habits. The most important thing is to be conscious of your posture as often as you can. In general, the first step into improving a life issue is to become aware of it. Throughout your normal day, make a conscious effort to practice proper posture. Additionally, there are corrective exercises and stretches that you can perform on a daily basis to improve posture.
Before doing these stretches, it’s a good idea to do some soft tissue work by rolling out with a lacrosse/tennis ball or a foam roller. This relaxes the muscles, which will improve the flexibility of them. Beginning with some stretches, the first one focuses on the hip flexors, specifically the top of the hip. This is a great stretch for those who sit a lot for a job, or at home when they’re relaxing. Figure A at the bottom of the page highlights how to perform it. Focus on extending your hips when leaning forward by squeezing the glutes to create a bigger stretch. After performing two sets of thirty seconds, do the same for the upper torso stretch shown in Figure B. Try to concentrate on slowly raising your arms towards the sky while keeping your shoulders pinched together. Other stretches that you can do include but are not limited to the “pigeon” stretch (Figure C), downward dogs, and any basic hamstring stretch for tight hips as well as a child’s pose and a chest stretch involving any doorway (Figure D).
At this point, you should feel loose and ready to perform some corrective exercises. As previously mentioned, weak core muscles are oftentimes a direct cause of poor posture. To improve their strength, exercises including superman’s (Figure E), bird-dogs (Figure F), glute-bridge raises, planks, and side planks. While these exercises target each part of the core differences, they’re all equally important. Aim to perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions for all the exercises except planks (30-60 seconds).
Lastly, you should perform mid-back exercises to help improve your overall posture. The first movement is called a wall angel, depicted in both Figure Gi and Gii, it’s important to keep points of contact with the hands, elbows, shoulders, and the entirety of the spine. The goal is fully to extend your arms overhead while maintaining contact with the wall. The final exercise is called a reverse plank bridge (Figure I), where you face the sky while placing your palms and feet on the ground. One repetition includes pushing your hips into the sky for a one-second hold. Ultimately, you should get your hips high enough so you create back extension throughout the entire spine.
It’s important to become aware of one’s posture and perform daily corrective stretches and exercises in order to improve. If you have any questions, reach out to an RCW Fitness Trainer.
Figure A – Hip Flexor - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBjhd3RftOY
Figure B – Chest Stretch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXVTnO8Rxjk
Figure C – Pigeon Stretch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op-eDU9eNqM
Figure D – Doorway Chest Stretch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FyNUDivkOI (1 Arm)
Figure E – Superman’s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6PJMT2y8GQ
Figure F – Bird-Dog’s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2azbhhuKuM
Figure Gi – Wall Angel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_ooIhKYs7c
Figure Gii – Wall Angel