The idea of having good posture is no longer just for aesthetics. Rather, good posture is a constant pursuit of bio-mechanic perfection. Many degenerative and dysfunctional changes that our physical body goes through can be related back to non-optimal posture or poor musculoskeletal positioning over time.
As Wolff’s law states, our bones will change shape to become stronger based on the stresses we apply to them. This is one major benefit of exercise, like building muscle with increased stress during weight lifting. The same goes for cardiovascular exercise. The more you condition and get your heart-rate up during exercise, the healthier your heart will function. We have to consider this idea when talking about posture. Because even though sitting at a desk is not necessarily training or exercise, we’re giving our body musculoskeletal input to sit at that desk, therefore we should be more aware of the position we are in on a daily basis. If we think about the position that our head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles are in when we sit at a desk, our body takes that information and starts to change to be better at getting into and functioning in that position.
Our bodies are like machines. And as machines, our parts are meant to move in certain ways. Posture can either facilitate or inhibit optimal function of our joints and muscles. As advanced components and techniques are evolving in the world of orthopedic surgery, preventative care including postural restoration is crucial for optimal musculoskeletal function. Healthy posture allows our musculoskeletal system to move, produce force, and accept force appropriately and stave off the effects of mechanically denaturing osteoarthritis. It is true that our physical bodies will break down overtime to some degree regardless of prevention, secondary to the effects of gravity, traumatic events that lead to arthritis, and genetically predisposed conditions, as well as other comorbid factors. But, by allowing your system to move better over time, you can potentially slow the degradation process.
Some very common non-surgical orthopedic visits often include complaints associated with shoulder pain, neck stiffness/tightness, and pain with movement of the neck or shoulders. These diagnoses are so common and in part can be due to a lifelong prevalence of poor posture which involves forward shoulders and a forward position of the head. As the rest of our body is connected below these particular structures, and is a part of the same kinematic chain, (defined as a combination of several joints linking several limb segments together during a specific movement of posture) other issues can arise. Therefore, poor posture can lead to back and lower extremity problems as well.
Over time, poor posture can lead to premature breakdown of cartilage in joints. Conversely, optimal posture allows our musculoskeletal system to produce and accept force appropriately with the least amount of wear and tear on our system.
If your job is one in which you’re required to sit at a desk. Your body can start developing abnormally and become more adapted to being in a seated position. Extended periods of sitting can cause tightness in the front of our shoulders as well as in the front of our neck. It can also cause weakness in the muscles that attach to the back of the head as well as to the shoulder blades. This combination of imbalances can lead to overuse injuries and the premature breakdown of our musculoskeletal system.
The following are some suggestions, not only for those who sit for work, but for anyone who wants to keep their musculoskeletal system as viable as possible for as long as possible. If you must sit for work, think about taking five minutes every hour to stand up and stretch into the complete opposite position of sitting. For example, stand up and squeeze your shoulder blades together in the back and then extend your neck by looking up as high as you can. At the same time, stand up tall through your hips and squeeze your buttocks together. This type of stretching routine can be done multiple times a day to help train the body to remain in an overall better position. This technique may even help you to become more conscious of the position you are in while sitting. The best option for those who sit at a desk would be to look into a variable height workstation to allow for multiple periods of standing to complete work in order to counteract time in the chair.
Please keep an eye out for my next post where I will include a more specific exercise program to improve posture!
-Stevie Crisci, PA-C