Could You Be Making These 5 Postural Mistakes Without Realising It?
We all know the importance of good posture when standing, sitting at our desk or carrying heavy loads. But check to see if these 5 less well-known posture mistakes could be contributing towards your neck, back and shoulder pain - and how to avoid them.
#1. Injury and Muscle Guarding
After a sports injury or if you pull a muscle falling or lifting something heavy, your muscles tend to go into spasm. This is the body's way of protecting the vulnerable area, keeping the injured joint or ligament stable to limit movement and aid the healing process. However, this automatic protective measure, known as 'Muscle guarding', may also become an ongoing problem. The muscles can become locked in spasm and weaken over time, and it doesn't help if you continue to guard your movement and abstain from normal exercise in order to prevent the injury from re-occurring. The resulting imbalance in the muscles that guard an injury and those still working normally, may lead to subtle postural changes that go undetected and become ingrained - causing pain in the neck, shoulders and back.
The key to avoiding this kind of postural inbalance is to take your recovery after an injury seriously. Injured muscles in spasm will work in a diminished way for at least a while after an injury, and it is a good idea to seek treatment in the form of physiotherapy and massage therapy to bring them back to optimal functioning. Your physiotherapist will be able to assess your posture, and where the underlying injury may be the cause of referred pain, give you an exercise programme to regain strength and movement and regain good posture.
#2. Mobile Phone Use
Regular use of a smartphone or a handheld device can lead to cervical misalignment and poor posture. As well as other health implications (see the diagram above), the most common problem tends to be neck, shoulder pain and headaches caused by the unnatural position you get into with the head tipped forwards and down, shoulders slumped. 'Text neck' as it has become commonly known by health practitioners, is essentially a repetitive strain injury and you may need help from a Chiropractor to treat both the immediate muscle pain symptoms but also to help you address the deeper issue of regaining good posture and cervical alignment. Your Chiropractor is perfectly placed to help restore normal body function - and will be able to guide you with the correct use of your mobile device as well as exercises to improve posture and mobility.
#3. Stress and Anxiety
We all get stressed from time to time, but if we suffer from stress and anxiety for a prolonged period of time, the impact on our posture can be very real.
Stephanie, a patient at The House Clinics, was suffering from severe neck and shoulder pain when she visited and was sure she had either injured her neck or had a more serious underlying condition.
"I could hardly move my head, even driving was becoming an issue and I thought I'd injured myself somehow without realising. When I dragged myself to see the Chiropractor, he assessed my posture and asked a few pointed questions about my lifestyle and whether I might be stressed. The answer was yes! He explained that emotional tension and stress can often lead to muscle pain as our bodies are in 'fight or flight mode' and tense up. As soon as I realised the cause of my pain, I felt relief that I could do something positive about it. I had a few treatments with the Chiropractor to adjust my neck and shoulders and then managed to do some stretching exercises he showed me how to do at home. Being mindful of the effect that stress had on my physical body was the key to getting better."
Becoming so stressed or anxious that you begin to tense up, will have a huge impact on the major nerves and muscles running through your neck, shoulders and back. Long-term stress and anxiety can create a snowball effect that might even lead to chronic neck or back pain. Often, self-care such as relaxing, stretching and taking a warm bath can really help. But if you find yourself in a long-term stress situation it can be wise to seek treatment from a Chiropractor who will be able to help restore healthy muscle and nerve function as well as give advice on avoiding bad posture caused by stress. Treatment may include cervical adjustment, dry needling and deep tissue massage as well as a programme of stretching exercises to improve posture.
#4. Sleeping Position
Sleeping should be a time of mind and body restoration, and hopefully, you'll be getting 6-8 hours of sleep a night. But if you think about it, that's a long time for your body to be resting in one position - so it's important to ensure you're avoiding a sleeping posture that has negative knock-on effects for your body. If you're waking up with a sore neck, a headache or an achy lower back, the chances are you need to rethink your sleeping position. Ideally, you should be aiming to maintain the curve in your lower back and support your head with the correct depth of pillow depending on how broad or narrow your shoulders or hips are, and the length of your neck. There are various things that can help with good sleeping posture, such as the use of a bolster or cushion in-between the legs to support the spine and avoid twisting, or a specially designed pillow to avoid hyperextension of the neck or scrunched up shoulders. A good quality mattress is also important, and you can ask advice from your Chiropractor or Physiotherapist before making any investment to make sure you get the right mattress or pillow for you.
If you have an underlying injury, neck or back problem, again it can be really helpful to ask your Chiropractor or Physiotherapist for advice on sleeping postures that will aid your recovery and not aggravate your problem.
#5. Handbags and Shoes
Wearing heels daily or on a regular basis can cause all sorts of problems for the body. After prolonged wear over a period of years, many women will experience bunions in their feet, foot pain, knee or back pain and posture-related problems in the cervical spine. Wearing high heels can cause lumbar spine flattening and posterior displacement of the head and thoracic spine, as your lower body leans forward and your upper body leans back to maintain balance. Heavy handbags can also be a problem for your spine. Typically, a bag held across one shoulder will pull you down on one side and cause the shoulder to roll forward and down. This places stress on the muscles in the upper back and neck and may lead to muscle spasm and pain. Ultimately, bags and high heels do not do your spine any great favours, so you should be mindful about how you use them.
Try to be conscious of not wearing heels all the time. Perhaps carry a pair of supportive flats for walking longer distances or switch from a high heel to lower heel if possible. Try not to wear heels every day. When carrying a bag, switch it from one shoulder to the other and ensure it is not too heavy. You could also try a cross-body bag which distributes the weight of the bag more evenly across your body.
Various stretching and strengthening exercises may help you to regain good posture and alleviate pain caused by wearing high heels or carrying a bag on one shoulder.
A Podiatrist can give you advice about your footwear and posture, and you may advise the use of orthotics to relieve knee, hip and lower back pain caused by poor posture.
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