Updated May 7, 2017
The single most frustrating thing to a massage therapist is a client who does not use proper posture – or at least attempt to – no matter how many times they visit our office and we tell them that they should. There are many reasons that your massage therapist wants you to use proper posture, but there is one thing that many massage therapists probably don’t consider. We need to actually teach our clients what a proper posture stance actually looks like, and what happens to your body when you slouch. Yes, our goal is to scare you. Just kidding. (Maybe.)
What does correct posture look like?
Ideally, when you are standing, your ears should be in line with your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles, with your spine straight. Basically, you should be able to draw a straight imaginary line, perpendicular to the ground from your ear to ankle with all of those points landing on the line. Your ribs should be directly over your hips, not forward of them. Your shoulders should be a flat plateau; you should be able to draw a straight imaginary line across them, parallel to the ground. The base of the throat where your two collar bones meet should line up with your sternum, naval, and the pubic arch, where your two pubic bones meet.
What causes poor posture?
There are any number of factors that can cause poor posture. Gravity is one of the biggest factors. Inevitably, gravity will pull you toward the ground, causing all sorts of curvatures in the spine. This causes strain on your muscles, which causes pain, which causes slouching, which causes strain on your muscles and so on and so forth. Other factors include:
- Excessive weight
- Improper footwear
- Mental illness like depression or anxiety
- Inadequate low-back support while seated
- Weak muscles
What happens to a body with poor posture?
Lots of pain happens with poor posture. A lot of the time, clients who come see me have pain that stems from poor posture, which they’d like me to get rid of. Look, I can massage your muscles for an hour once a week, but if the cause of the pain isn’t taken away, then you’re always going to have aches. This is why massage therapists get frustrated when clients don’t use good posture!
- For every inch that your ears come forward of your imaginary straight line, you add ten pound of pressure to your spine, which puts strain on the muscles supporting your spine.
- Slouching causes tension in your pectoral muscles, which causes over stretching of the trapezius and rhomboid muscles, causing back pain.
I could talk all day about how poor posture affects your muscular system, but there are other backlashes in your body as well.
- Slouching can give way to poor circulation, which can eventually cause disc deterioration.
- Irregular spinal curvature can cause disc herniation.
- When you slouch, it compacts your organs, including your lungs, making breathing a more strenuous task. Likewise, it can cause discomfort while eating.
- Poor posture causes fatigue, because it weakens your muscles, so your body has to work harder to support its weight.
- You’re going to look older. Elderly people hunch over because their bones and muscles get weaker, and years of gravity pulling at them have taken their toll. You look like that. Poor posture can give you a hump in your back, a double chin, a potbelly, or kyphosis.
- The tension that poor posture puts on your neck muscles can give you headaches, which a massage can get rid of when the muscle tension is relieved. However, if you don’t use good posture after your session, the pain will come back.
How do I know if I have poor posture?
If you’re not exactly sure if you have correct posture, there is a simple test that you can do. Get into sitting position against a flat wall. Rotate your hips forward so that your lumbar spine is flat against the wall. Straighten your upper spine so that both of your shoulders are flat against the wall as well. Your entire spine should be straight, so bring your chin toward your chest until your neck is flat against the wall. That’s what your spine should feel like in proper posture, whether you’re sitting or standing. Added bonus, this exercise doubles as an amazing stretch for your back muscles.
How can I fix my posture?
- The best thing you can do for your body is exercise. This will strengthen muscles, giving them more integrity to bounce back from strain and injuries.
- If you must sit for long hours, try to get up at regular intervals, stretch your muscles, and mobilize your joints.
- Use a rolled up hand towel at the base of your back when sitting at a desk or driving in your car to provide support for your lower back, which will straighten our your spine.
- While in correct posture in the driver’s seat of your car, fix your rear- and side-view mirrors so that you can visually see when you begin to slouch
- Sit with your feet flat on the floor, directly beneath your knees, and your knees slightly lower than your hips.
- Wear shoes that support the arch of your foot
- Use your stomach muscles to stabilize your core
- When lying on your side, put a pillow between your knees
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach, which
- Actively pay attention to your posture, and fix it when you feel discrepancies.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a massage blog if I didn’t also recommend massage for all of your posture woes. When you use improper posture, your muscles become tight and fixed in that position, which pulls your skeleton into contorted positions. Massage will ease the tension in your muscles and help you get back to a healthy posture. Massage therapy is the answer!
Cover photo by Tomball Chiropractic