Part 1 – What is Posture?
Posture has been a buzzword in the past and it seems that it’s coming around again. Postural control is defined as the act of maintaining, achieving or restoring a state of balance during any posture or activity. Poor posture was something that my Mum harped on about (love you Mum). She would constantly tell me to “stand up straight” or “pull your shoulders back”. I tried to do these things, admittedly I didn’t apply myself to them ritualistically, yet I tried. This nagging was put into the category of things that mums just loved nagging about like washing your hands before dinner or not picking your nose. It didn’t bother me that I had “bad posture”. Until a fateful day of tennis.
Yes, this is me at age 16. Year 11 of school was a tough year and I’m sure I studied plenty, but surely this was just an overexaggerated posture? But as more and more photographs from over the years surfaced the sinking realisation came to me; my posture wasn’t just bad. It was terrible. I was in a constant hunch.
For my final year of school I started taking an interest in how I could change my own posture. I took the same approach as most, beginning with doing my own research to see what would help before finally seeing the local physiotherapist. Religiously I would lie face down on my bed and pull my shoulderblades hard together to try and strengthen the area (Dr. Google told me this was a great idea, which is nonsense). I even had a friend help me tape my back as a regular occurrence so that I could learn to stand taller and with less of hunchback. Yet as the HSC drew ever nearer and as my priorities changed my posture was placed into the “come back to it later” basket and life moved forward. But it certainly influenced my career choices…
Posture is simply the human bodies position of strength in any given scenario. Hence, we have a favoured sitting posture, a favoured standing posture, riding posture, writing posture, handstand posture…the list goes on. Let’s run a mini experiment here. Please go and locate a mirror. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Whip out that fancy smart phone of yours (that you are likely reading this article on) and take a pic of yourself standing side on in the mirror. Ideally this is done with minimal clothing on so you can see the contours of your body.
Done? What do you see?
If your body hunches forward into a position of comfort for you, then that is where your body has the most strength. If you notice that your hips shift forward and your ribcage shifts backwards this is your position of strength. If you have military posture you have either practiced this, or this is simply your position of strength. Maybe you see that you actually lean to one side, or that you have a really proud chest and your butt sticks out? The point is that it doesn’t matter what you look like. The reason you do whatever you do is because this is the most economical position FOR YOU IN THE GIVEN SCENARIO. What do I mean by the most economical position? I mean that in this position you must use the least amount of energy as possible. Humans as a species tend to find shortcuts to efficiency and posture is no exception.
What do we need muscular strength and energy for when we talk about posture? You guessed it, gravity. As Isaac Newton discovered, gravity is the enemy. The eternal force of gravity compresses us longitudinally as we are standing, causing our postural muscles to fire in order to attempt to (a) hold us upright and (b) decompress us.
The issues arise with poor posture or bad posture when:
a) the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerve tissue that end up bearing the brunt of the load are unable to do that anymore. Our bodies have a set strength/endurance/tolerance for any given task. Holding ourselves upright is no different. If your body begins to ache after half a day of standing, it is likely that you have excellent tolerance of up to 4 hours of standing, yet at the 5th hour the muscles begin to fatigue and the body begins compensating as best as it can.
b) when the posture has been sustained for so long that the body has begun to adapt to always being in that posture. Over time, our body begins adapting to positions in which it is placed by forming small fascial adhesions (or Fuzz as coined by Gil Hedley – look up his Fuzz speech on YouTube). Ask anyone who has had their arm in a sling how stiff their elbow was at the end of 6 weeks… even if they were in the sling because of their shoulder! Every morning when you wake up you have a mini stretch which breaks down these mini adhesions and allows muscles and joints to function optimally. If we are constantly holding a hunched forward posture while standing for example, our body builds tiny fascial adhesions (aka Fuzz) that hold us into this posture.