April 11, 2018
What is your body telling you about your health? Many things, if you understand the language. Postural cues are a common language we see daily in interacting with others and one we understand:
- Your co-worker walks in with slumped shoulders and slouched back and before saying a word you know they feel beaten down about a project.
- Your friend comes bouncing in with head up, shoulders back walking tall, and you know they are happy and full of energy.
- You see a customer at the counter with their shoulders hunched up, jaw tense, leaning slightly forward and you prepare for a difficult encounter.
- You watch someone walk out of the doctor’s office and you know if they are healthy and feeling good or if they are in pain and worried.
Are we as adept at understanding our own postural language and what it is showing us about our health? It is time for a home study course so you can better understand your postural cues. When you are dressing take a minute and look at yourself in a full length mirror; look from the front and then from the side. What do you notice?
First give a general impression: Do you look healthy and “young”, or do you appear tired and “old”? Do you appear tense or relaxed? What do you think makes you look that way? Shoulders rolled forward, head jutting out and slanted to the side, back rounded and your gut drooping makes you look like a grandparent. Head high and straight, shoulders comfortably back, spine nicely arched, belly in makes you look younger and vibrant.
Now change your posture and see how different you appear and think about what impression this posture gives to someone looking at you. Lifting your head up, pulling shoulders back and sucking belly in you look taller and happier. Let your shoulders droop forward and your belly stick out and suddenly you look frumpy, tired and older. Which do you prefer?
Bring yourself into the position you think looks best and notice what it FEELS like in your body. You will want to memorize this feeling, and remind yourself throughout your day to bring your body back to this posture. Work on it whenever you see your reflection and quickly you will see improvements. What will be most incredible is that others will notice a difference too, though they may not know why. They will think you lost weight, or are working out or simply think you look “great”.
But what else can we understand from our posture? Changing our posture may not be as simple as straightening our back and lifting our head. There may be issues that need attention or problems that require a professional to diagnose and treat in order for postural improvement. Here are some common postural distortions and what they may indicate:
- Head tilted to side or slightly rotated: Neck or shoulder muscles shortened and weak. Degeneration in the joints or discs of the neck.
- One shoulder lower than the other: Injury to the rotator cuff or the shoulder joint. Chronic poor posture related to our work or daily activities that created significant imbalances.
- Torso leaning to one side or partially rotated: Low back disc injury. Pelvis distorted out of position.
- Pelvis (“Hip”) lower/higher than the other: Pelvis twisted, hip joint problem, knee or foot problem.
- Forward lean to torso: Degeneration in lower spine, spinal stenosis, disc injury.
- Knee partially flexed/not as straight as opposite: Degeneration in knee, cartilage injury to knee.
These distortions accompanied by pain or weakness or the inability to move your body into a better posture without pain or stiffness indicates a need for evaluation to understand what is causing the poor posture to see if it can be corrected with professional help. If a painful distortion is ignored the underlying problem can worsen and may become permanent.
Sometimes we have imperfect posture and due to our unique situation (heredity, prior injury or illness) it can’t be fixed. It is very important to understand why we hold that posture and to know what we can do to stabilize our body and protect other joints from injury. Postural distortions – no matter the cause – create compensatory stresses and strains in other joints and tissues and if left unsupported can lead to increasing damage and other problems.
Healthy posture is not a short term project; instead it is a life-long activity. How can you keep a healthy posture? Do the self-analysis regularly, paying attention to how your posture changes with how you are feeling. Begin to observe people and their posture and start to notice how they look and what distortions they are demonstrating.
When you note a distortion in your posture that is accompanied by pain or other symptom that you can’t correct, get evaluated by a professional experienced in posture (Chiropractors and Physical Therapists are experts in this work) and commit to improving or at the least stabilizing your posture.
Go ahead, start RIGHT NOW! Step in front of the mirror and have a look. Don’t be scared, it won’t be terrible and the sooner you start, the better you will be able to improve your posture and look terrific.
Dr. Barry Wahner