Freeze. Don’t move a muscle. SERIOUSLY!
Check how you are sitting, slouching, laying, standing, …..whatever it is that you’re doing. If I went to the dictionary of proper posture,would I find your image? Not that I’m a pessimist, but if I had to guess I would say you might be able to make some improvements.
Let’s face it. We all sit A LOT. We sit in the car, we sit at our desk, we sit in the bed, we sit on the couch, we sit at the table, I think you get the point. But why does that matter? Any activity that we do consistently and repeatedly in our daily lives effects us. For example, if you find yourself eating every hour on the hour for months on end… the scale will creep upwards in a similar fashion. On the flip side, if you exercise consistently for an extended period of time, your body will change in composition and function (note: the degree to which those change is heavily dependent on your diet). So if we find ourselves in the same incorrect posture standing, sitting, or laying for extended periods of time and over years then our bodies will inevitably change according to this behavior.
Sitting for extended periods of time is not only damaging to the spine, but it is also damaging to our overall health. See the link below for more information on how even being a regular exerciser can’t save you from this epidemic.
Back pain is the ultimate result of this improper posture. New statistics are showing that over 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in the their life. That’s a whole lot of people!! I personally have injured my back in the past. Let me just tell you…back pain is no joke. Back pain can, and without preventative steps will, impair your life. I was literally unable to move. Luckily I had really great practitioners in my life that helped me “back” to health. No pun intended. Ever since that injury, back health has been a big area of focus for me. My final semester of graduate school was spent creating a back health class. This is the highly condensed version of that work.
First off, let’s hit some anatomy. Your back is protected by the muscles of your core. “Core” is used a lot these days and it’s definition is often misinterpreted. Your core is not just that six pack you’ve been striving for, but rather, all the muscles encompassing the trunk of the body. I’m talking front and back! I won’t bore you with a true anatomy lesson, but there are three major muscles that need to be mentioned. The transverse abdominis (TA) is your internal corset muscle. The TA is a cylinder shaped muscle that compresses the trunk of the body. The TA works in conjunction with the Multifidus. Multifidi are muscles that provide segmental stability to the spine, meaning these muscles run through each vertebra. The contraction of the TA results in the contraction of the Multifidi muscles providing protection to each vertebra. Lastly, the erector spinae extends the spine and plays a crucial role in supporting back health.
Ok so in order to protect each vertebra from damage the Multifidi must be working, and that can’t happen unless the TA is contracting. So you should be asking yourself…how the heck do I “fire” my TA? This can get really complicated, but the most simple cue is to pull your belly button into your spine. ”Tight core” or “engage core” as other common cues. Did you sit up taller? How’s your posture now? Maybe it got a little better. When we sit in a hunched over position, the damage is
really 2-fold on the spine. If you are hunched over, it is literally impossible to be contracting the TA and therefore the Multifidi are not protecting the spine. Vertebra are being smashed together causing damage to the bone and cartilage that work to support the spinal cord. Thinking back to our excessive sitting, chairs have allowed the TA to go into hibernation. In a chair the TA doesn’t have to work because the load is being placed on the lumbar spine. No segmental stability = back pain.
What can we do to protect the spine? First off, if you have to sit, do so in correct posture and with engagement of your core muscles. Set reminders on your computer or phone to check your posture. They even have posture apps now that will alert you when you are out of correct posture.
Take frequent breaks from sitting. Get up, walk around, do some stretches if you can. The article below may inspire you to take breaks more often.
When lifting objects, of any size, lift with your leg muscles, not your low back. Additionally, you should be actively engaging your core before and during the lift to ensure the spine is protected.
Consider your sleeping position. If you sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your side, try not to extend your arms and put a pillow between your knees to level your hips. If you sleep on your stomach… stop that!
Carefully consider your footwear. This one is important for the ladies who wear high heels. Try and reduce your time in heels and opt for a lower heel. Don’t believe me? Read the NYTimes article linked below.
If you spend a lot of time in the car, adjust the seat to best accommodate your proper posture. Additionally, try and take frequent breaks.
If you have poor hip or shoulder mobility, it makes correct posture nearly impossible. Stretches targeting hip flexors and pec minor will allow you to default to better posture in seated and standing positions.
Lastly, strengthen the muscles of the core. Hollow body holds/rock, toes to bar, v-ups, supermans, etc. are all great exercises that should be part of your regime.
Let’s revive the Transverse Abdominis and protect the back for life!