Posture: Good vs. Bad
Posture. You know what I’m talking about when you hear the word, but how much do you really know about posture? The general understanding is that your posture is the way you physically carry yourself. But do you actually know what constitutes “good” posture? And do you actually know that poor posture can contribute to loads of health issues? Things like digestive issues, headaches, difficulty breathing, and back & neck pain.
This blog post will help you understand the connection between your pain and your posture, more specifically headaches, low-back pain, or pain between your shoulder blades.
It’s all about balance
Like everything in life, there is a natural balance for your body. When the muscles in your body are in a healthy, balanced state your posture is likely “good.” So what does that balance look like?
Each joint in your body allows for movement, from your ankle to your hip, your neck, your fingers and everywhere inbetween. Muscles are what cause and allow those joints to move. I say both cause and allow because anytime you want to move there are muscles that have to activate, tighten, and pull (agonist). Then there are muscles that have to de-activate, loosen, and let go (antagonist). When the joint is in a neutral position the muscles on either side should be balanced, however this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, muscles on one side will be too tight and pull too much. This causes the opposing muscles to be weak and over-stretched. This state of imbalance, when left unaddressed, leads to pain and increased risk of injury.
Assessing your posture
The first step in correcting poor posture is being able to identify it, which means understanding proper posture. There are points on the body that should line up when the body is balanced. From a profile perspective, the center of the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle should all line up. From a front/back perspective the ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should all be even. A simple posture check will help locate areas that may be out of balance.
In addition to a visual posture check using these specific points on the body, we also suggest the “wall test.” To perform the wall test simply stand with your back flat against a wall and your heels touching the baseboard. Note the parts of your body that are making contact with the wall. Your head, shoulders, upper back, and butt should all be against the wall. If they aren’t touching the wall, correct your posture until they do.
Common posture problems
The most common postural misalignments we see at The Massage Space include forward head carriage, uneven shoulders, internally rotated shoulders, and uneven hips. All of these are interrelated. Watch our video Performing A Posture Check for a better explanation of these imbalances.
So what does posture have to do with pain? Everything! Or at least a lot. If you suffer from headaches, shoulder tension, pain between your shoulder blades, or low-back pain there is a high probability it is directly related to your posture. Here’s how…
Headaches, Shoulder & Neck Tension
Tension headaches are caused by specific muscles in the shoulders and neck being too tight and having trigger points. A trigger point is what most people refer to as a “knot” in a muscle, and it refers pain. Trigger points in the shoulders and neck refer pain directly to the head causing what you know as a headache.
With forward head carriage, the muscles of the shoulders and neck are working extra hard to keep your head upright. If you think about your head as a large boulder balancing on top of a stack of smaller rocks you realize how important the balance of the body is. As soon as your head is not positioned in that balanced state, other parts of the body have to work overtime to keep it from falling. Thus, you end up with loads of tension in your shoulders and neck, which is a direct cause of headaches.
Relieve your headache
In order to really eliminate headaches there are several things that need to happen:
(1) Stretch and release the muscles that are short and tight. These muscles are the culprits of your headaches. By addressing them you should get temporary relief. Massage is one of the best ways to loosen these over-tight muscles. Proper application can help eliminate your tension headaches altogether. In addition to manual therapy you should incorporate daily stretching of those same muscles. Check out our video Stretches & Exercises for the Neck & Shoulders to Relieve Tension and Reduce Headaches.
(2) Activate and strengthen the weak, overstretched muscles. By getting these muscles to fire and turn back on, not only are you helping to correct your posture, but you’re also allowing the short, tight muscles to relax.
Essentially, with forward head carriage you most likely have what is known as upper cross syndrome:
The image above shows you the imbalance that occurs with upper cross syndrome. It also shows which muscles to stretch and which to strengthen in order to correct this postural imbalance.
Another complaint we hear regularly at The Massage Space is mid-back pain or pain between the shoulder blades. Naturally, most people who suffer from this type of pain think that massaging directly over the area will help alleviate the discomfort. However, this is not accurate. In fact, relaxing these muscles even more could contribute to making the pain worse. The initial feeling may be great because when an area constantly aches, often times massage feels good. But the pain is likely due to the same postural imbalance that we mentioned with headaches: Upper Cross Syndrome.
With Upper Cross Syndrome, the muscles that lie between the shoulder blades are overstretched and weak. The best way to relieve the pain is to activate and contract those muscles, getting them to fire and pull the way they should be. I understand that this probably seems counter intuitive, but there is a major difference between a tight muscle and a taught one. In this case the muscles are hurting because they are taught, not tight, which is why direct massage could worsen the issue. Instead, massage and stretches should be applied to the pecs, while strengthening those of the back.
Low Back Pain
Low back pain is one of the most common complaints we hear at The Massage Space. This is no surprise given that 80% of adults in the U.S. suffer from low back pain. There are several factors which contribute to low back pain, however this article is specifically addressing the role of posture. For more information on other things that may be causing your low back pain, check out our video 4 Major Causes of Low Back Pain.
We have already seen that the balance of the body is super important when it comes to your head, neck, shoulders and mid-back. So it should be no surprise that the same is true as we continue moving down the body. If Upper Cross Syndrome explains the imbalance of the upper torso, then Lower Cross Syndrome explains that of the lower torso and pelvis:
Just as with the upper body, a muscular imbalance leads to a postural imbalance and pain. Release and relax the tight low back muscles and hip flexors and strengthen the abs, glutes, and hamstrings you can begin to correct your posture.
It should be noted that typically, if you find yourself with either Upper or Lower Cross Syndrome you likely have both, even if you aren’t feeling all of the symptoms just yet. A regular wellness routine can help correct postural imbalances and prevent them from causing you pain.
Our wellness team
At The Massage Space, we know that our soft tissue therapy plays a vital role in helping you achieve the results you are looking for. However we also believe that the greatest results are seen when massage is combined with other wellness therapies. Just as you are a multi-faceted being, so wellness requires a multi-faceted approach. The Massage space gladly partners with Family Focus Chiropractic, L.L.C., TCM Wellness Acupuncture Clinic, Peace & Perserverance, and Jade Counseling Services.