Are you one of the 86% of Americans that spend majority of your work day sitting at a desk? Are you aware of the effects that can have on the body, particularly if you are maintaining prolonged periods of poor posture? The number of desk jobs is staggering, and many are not aware of what these seated positions are doing to our bodies, until some sort of pain is sending you to your doctor and/or physical therapist. But is posture only applicable to seated positions? No, that is only one slice of the pie!
What is posture? Posture is defined as the position we hold our bodies in while standing, sitting, or lying down. When we hold our bodies and spine in the correct and natural position/alignment it is meant to be in, we are maintaining good posture. This requires the right amount of muscle use and tension against gravity. Without the correct muscle recruitment when under the load of gravity, we would fall to the ground. Most people can likely point out poor posture positions, but would you be able to recognize or describe what correct postural positions should be?
Good posture allows us to put the least amount of strain on the surrounding muscles and structures during seated, standing, walking, and lying positions. To maintain proper posture, the proper flexibility in certain muscles, the proper strength in certain muscles, and normal mobility in the joints is required. Awareness and consciously correcting poor positions are very important factors that must also be present to make changes.
But often our bodies resort to poor positions secondary to things like muscle imbalances (tightness and/or weakness) or stiffness in joints, and strain on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments ensue. You won’t feel the effects right away, but when maintaining these positions of strain for long periods of time, and over months and years, the list of possible effects is long, and you will likely start to experience one or more of them. What might you start to feel? The most obvious would be neck, midback, and/or low back pain. But the list could extend to shoulder pain, headaches, jaw pain, poor circulation, numbness and/or tingling down the arms or legs, fatigue, and/or compromised breathing.
Your physical therapist will perform an initial evaluation, and during that appointment will analyze your seated and standing posture. They will perform the tests and measurements necessary to diagnose the root of your pain/problem. Throughout the subsequent follow up appointments, he/she will continually educate you on all the needed information to help your situation and create/prescribe a specific-to-you corrective therapeutic exercise program. He or she may also use manual techniques that could include soft tissue work, stretching, and/or joint mobilizations. Keep in mind that long term postural problems will typically take longer to address than more acute or recent problems. But as your symptoms and posture improve, your physical therapist will give you functional training to help you return to your previous activity level based on what your goals are.