Man’s Not so Great Invention (for our structure):
Over the course of human evolution there has been one invention that is used around the world, yet has de evolved our structure. That invention is the invention of the chair, and with this, our modern bodies have started developing tendencies and compensatory patterns. From the age of grade school we are taught to sit for hours in what we now know to be the hardest position for our structure to hold. The seated position is also the most amount of energy expenditure used and not in a positive burning calories way.
Those of us who are sedentary, or spend countless hours seated at a desk, as well as those of us who are active, seem to migrate to a group of similar mobility and stability problems as we age. Our society overall is what we call an “anterior dominant” society. Almost everything we do in our lives results in muscle length and stretch imbalances, sloppy and stiff joints and as a result our daily posture compensates. Many injuries have been linked to these structural changes ranging from cervical and occipital ridge headaches, to shoulder impingement or dysfunction, to low back pain and herniated discs, to mal aligned hips to plantar fasciitis. All apply.
One of the most significant tendencies I see in my practice is less than optimal mobility in the thoracic segment of the spine, rounded shoulders, forward head carriage and poor posture overall. At the least 80% of clients have some form of low back pain, and this usually comes with a concurrent trigger of pain or soreness in the upper neck and shoulders. It’s the chicken or the egg complex really. Pain changes movement. Which one came first? Most often, we don’t know, but what we do know is that addressing the major point of dysfunction is key, and that we must also address the joints above and below.
The T-Spine & Posture:
The thoracic region has a tendency toward stiffness and rigidity and most often could benefit from greater amounts of mobility and flexibility. The architecture of this region is designed for support, but poor postural habits can promote stiffness and then decrease the body’s natural ability to rotate. When this happens the joints above and below the thoracic region can become sloppy, less stable and this increases the client or athlete’s risk of injury. We need to ensure we do not just address these symptoms, but follow the breakdown of the whole chain and consider the rest of the structure, by looking at both a lack of optimal mobility in the T-spine, but also the instability of the lumbar and shoulders (the joints above and below).
A Functional Approach:
Changes in posture over decades cannot be reversed in a short period of time; we may not be able to change posture right away, but we can remove any negatives and poor postural habits at work, and in daily activities. This requires a combination of therapeutic approaches and models, some of which could include:
- Functional assessment of structure and compensation
- The funcational opposite – postural positions that provide decompression and relief to the client
- Lengthen shortened muscles
- Release postural trigger points
- Inhibit overactive muscle groups
- Activate inhibited muscle groups
- Strengthen synergistic force couples
- Normalize proper joint biomechanics and arthrokinematics
- Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS)
- Corrective Intervention Strategies for pain management
- Client education and management resources
Yoga and Therapeutic Movement:
As a yoga teacher and movement specialist, after I have assessed and evaluated my client, we move onto our corrective strategy; which will usually include addressing 1 or 2 dysfunctional patterns that have the highest risk factors, and we do so by implementing corrective exercises into their daily prescribed program.
Here is one of the key stretches/ yoga poses I offer clients who require more spinal mobility and postural change.
Yoga: Cobra Pose
One of the first stretches we give to clients when addressing postural imbalances and thoracic limitations is cobra pose. This particular pose focuses on the second bulleted point above; “the functional opposite.” If you spend hours seated in that anterior dominant position then this pose if a great way to decompress the structure and improve thoracic extension. Once you have achieved better extension and reduced tension in the front and back lines, thus making it much easier to move into rotational patterns.
Seated Posture Cobra Pose
Head Flexed Forward Extended Back
Upper Neck Flexion Extension
Lower Neck Flexion Extension
Shoulders Round Forward Back / Packed
Thoracic Spine Flexion Extension
Lumbar Spine Flexion Extension
Hips Flexion Extension
Knees Flexion Extension
Ankle Dorsi Flexion Plantar Flexion
Extension exercises are often used in therapeutic approaches to rehabilitation, but this is an exercise I give to all clients who may not experience low back pain, but spend many hours seated throughout the day. Prevention of injuries is most important in the hustle and bustle of our society. Once you have increased extension in your thoracic spine, you can then start to move onto rotational exercises and stretches to improve mobility. Next week we will look at rotational exercises for improving t-spine rotation, as well as how this can affect the lumbar region and shoulder regions of our body.