Sit up straight. Shoulders back. We’ve all heard it before, but why is it important? Posture isn’t just about looking better and more confident… it’s about our bodies working better. To better understand how this works, we have to know a little bit more about how muscles work.
Interlace your fingers and slide your fingers apart and together. Your fingers represent the protein filaments involved in muscle contraction and relaxation and this visual gives you a basic idea of how muscles move. Muscles are at their best, at their strongest, when there is not too little overlap (a stretched muscle) or too much overlap (a shortened muscle). They have an ideal length and an ideal tension at which they and the surrounding tissues function best.
In poor posture, we have chronically shorted and chronically lengthened muscles which alter the way our bodies work, increasing the stress to our soft tissues and to our joints. For every shortened muscle, there will be at least one lengthened muscle, though usually many. These shortened muscles are prone to over-activity and often not very strong. The lengthened muscles are typically weak and under-active. The problems don’t end there.
These weak or under-active muscles are unable to perform their designated functions effectively, so the body must compensate. In a phenomena known as synergistic dominance, the body selects muscles with similar or shared functions to compensate for the weakened muscles. They’re never as efficient at those particular functions as the primary muscles and often become strained or overused as a result.
All these altered muscle lengths, tensions and functions also alter the mechanics at the joints which these muscles affect. This can lead to increased wear and tear on our joints. The combined effect of all this dysfunction is altered muscle recruitment patterns, increased tissue stresses, and a predisposition to injury. So what do we do about it?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as sit up straight, shoulders back, chin up. Shortened, over-active muscles inhibit opposing muscles through a phenomena known as reciprocal inhibition. This means that when you attempt to pull those shoulders back, it will be difficult to do so using the proper muscles because the tight muscles which are holding your shoulders forward are inhibiting them. So what do you do? The process for correcting posture is a long one, but it can be done. It’s a three-step process. First, you have to stretch and/or release those shortened, overactive muscles to allowproper functioning of the inhibited muscles. Next, you need to target the lengthened and inhibited muscles for strengthening using specific exercises. These two steps give one the ability to maintain good posture, but that doesn’t mean we know how. In the final step, we must re-train our nervous systems to operate in ideal posture. This is where the whole sit up straight, shoulders back stuff comes into play. This is where it’s actually useful.
To have your posture assessed and for more details on how to improve your posture, contact me for a free consultation.