Poor posture is the result of muscle imbalances caused by postural stress, emotional duress, repetitive movement, cumulative trauma, poor training technique, lack of core strength, and/or a lack of neuromuscular control /efficiency (Clark, 2008). Any time pain or discomfort is noted in the neck, back, and joints of the lower extremities, it is important to visit a physician for a full assessment. In many cases, however, poor posture can be improved with a comprehensive corrective flexibility program. The goal in correcting poor posture is to restore a balance of strength and flexibility throughout the body.
Postural distortions occur for a variety of reasons, but ultimately one part of a muscle pair is tight while the other part is weak. Therefore, one overtakes (or over-compensates for) the other. For example, if the chest muscles are tight and the muscles of the upper back are weak, then the chest muscles will “pull” on the back muscles causing the upper back to curve forward. These kinds of abnormal curvatures can cause other health problems.
Correcting poor posture starts with increasing flexibility in tight muscles. Using a foam roller to release tightness in the following key areas has been found to be very effective: calf muscles, outer thigh muscles, inner thigh muscles, back of the hips, and the upper back muscles (near shoulder blades and armpits) down through the spine. This type of stretching technique is called SMR, or self-myofascial release, which involves applying gentle pressure to an adhesion (or “knot”) until the muscle tissue is separated.
The next type of stretching technique is static stretching. This is the process of passively stretching a muscle to its maximum range of motion and holding the stretch for 20 seconds. Examples of static stretches that help improve posture include: kneeling latissimus dorsi, standing gastrocnemius , quadriceps lying prone, hip flexors kneeling, hamstring lying straight leg, and adductors standing.
The third type of stretching technique is active-isolated stretching which involves performing a stretch while simultaneously pulling against it. For example, to relieve tightness in the neck/upper back areas, slowly tilt the head to one side while depressing the opposite shoulder downward and hold for 20-30 seconds. Then switch sides and repeat. (Clark, 2008)
Dynamic stretching is defined as, “the active extension of a muscle, using force production and momentum, to move the joint through the full available range of motion.” (Clark, 2008) These exercises are often used as a warm up for other types of physical activity. Some more dedicated forms of dynamic stretching that are excellent for improving posture are yoga and Pilates. To open the chest, passive backbends and seated chest openers are highly recommended. To strengthen the core, performing planks are highly effective. Half-locusts help strengthen the back and stretch the hip flexors. (Bauman) The deep breathing involved in both yoga and Pilates can help relieve the tension caused by emotional duress.
As mentioned earlier in this article, improving posture requires establishing a balance between strength and flexibility throughout the body. If a physician rules out any health issues or active injuries, consult a qualified professional like a chiropractor, physical therapist, or certified personal trainer to help design a program that will correct poor posture and improve overall quality of life.