Causes of Poor Posture

Poor posture is so common I see some degree in every patient who walks through my door. Upon completion of care I routinely teach the the 8 stretches to correct poor posture. The upright posture of human beings is a delicate balance of many muscles resisting gravity.  When we develop bad habits in posture it puts excessive strain on muscles as they work at a disadvantage against gravity.  The causes that lead to poor posture are vast and range from prolonged positions at work to our emotional states.  In this article we will discuss the most common issues in the upper body because they result in more presentations into my office as pain.

Starting at the top Anterior Head Carriage is when someone is holding their head to far forward.  The average weight of the human head is 8 pounds and as we move our head forward out of our center of gravity the new lever arm on the muscles greatly increases.  This excessive work on the muscles in the back of our neck and upper middle back leads to chronic fatigue and development of trigger points in the muscles. This leads to neck pain upper shoulder and middle back pain. Also as a result of carrying our head forward it results in the muscles at the base of our skull overworking to tilt our head up to see forward.  Trigger points in these sub-occipital muscles can lead to tension headaches.  In this posture the muscles in the front of the neck shorten and become tight which can result in nerve compressions such Scalene Syndrome.

As the head carries forward we simultaneously start rolling our shoulders forward.  The forward rolling of the shoulders occur as the chest muscles shorten and pull the shoulder blade forward.  The muscles that oppose the chest muscles in the middle back get lengthened and fatigue faster.  The fatigue leads to trigger points and pain in the middle back and upper shoulder area.  The tightness in the chest can cause nerve compression leading to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

In combination with the above muscles imbalances we also start to develop an increased curvature of the Thoracic spine.  This excessive curvature is called Hyper Kyphosis.  Hyper Kyphosis is most likely due to prolonged head posture.  Hyper Kyphosis leads to middle back pain along the spine as the muscles get trigger points from overwork caused by carrying the head forward.

8 Stretches to Correct Poor Posture

  1. Snow Angels.  Lay on the floor on your back, with palms up at your sides slowly make snow angels with your arms while keeping your hands on the floor. It is best to perform this exercise with a foam roller.  Lay on the foam roller so that is is running along your spine with your head resting on it.
  2. Kyphosis Stretch:  Using the foam roller perpendicular to your spine, lay your back on top of the foam roller in the center of your middle back with your arms overhead.  Slowly roll downward until you get to the start of your low back.  Never use the foam roller on the low back.  Begin again by starting at the base of the neck and roll all the way down to the start of low back.  Once at low back roll slowly back up to base of the neck. Repeat 5-10 times depending on how tight you are.
  3. Head hanging off Foam Roller:  Lay on the foam roller with it running up your spine like in Snow Angels.  Scoot your body up so your head is not resting on the foam roller.  Let your head hang off the edge.  Hold the stretch until you feel a release and then scoot a little higher and repeat.  when your head easily touches the floor you have scooted high enough.
  4. Chin Tucks. While seated look straight ahead and bring your chin straight back slightly causing your head to tilt forward.
  5. Cervical Flexion and Extension stretch.  While seated tilt your head as far forward as you can bringing your chin to your chest. Then alternate the opposite direction by looking up. Hold each position several seconds.
  6. Cervical Curve Support. Roll up a towel and place under your neck while laying on your back. Just lay still and relax allowing head the rest back as towel supports you neck curve.
  7. Standing reach back:  While standing reach arms overhead as far as you can.  Then bring them back as far as you can while arching back and looking up.  Hold as long is as comfortable.
  8. Standing Rotation:  Stand with arms lifted to 90 degrees at your side like you are making a T.  While reaching back with arm turn as far as you can to right in a twisting motion following with your head and gaze.  Then in one motion turn to the left as far as you can making sure your head and gaze follow.  This motion is moderately fast and smooth.  Each time try to twist and look further.  Repeat 5-10 times.  Be careful the first few attempts to make sure you do not get to dizzy.