Last week I attended a full day workshop on “Posture and Movement Analysis” in NYC.1 About 25 fitness professionals showed up, all of whom exercise regularly. After we conducted a posture assessment for each other, we were shocked to learn that EVERYONE had moderate to severe posture problems.
It is very possible that you too have a moderate to severe postural problem that can affect your health and performance. I must admit I have a small to moderate degree of every postural deviation listed in this article!
While this article does not cover how to conduct a comprehensive posture assessment, I chose the 5 most common posture problems I see that are caused by a sedentary lifestyle. For each posture problem, I list the (1) identification, (2) cause, (3) problem, and (4) solution.
Keep in mind the solutions listed are only “possible” solutions because some of the causes and problems may not be correctable (i.e. congenital issues, or trauma). Finally, be aware that any posture problem can lead to other problems as the human body is one “kinetic chain”.
Identification – As shown in the photo above, put both hands 1 inch away from each side of your foot. Straighten your ankle so that the space between each hand and your ankle is equidistant. Now naturally let your ankle and feet rest. If your foot and ankle caved inward, you have over-pronated feet.
Causes – Obesity, pregnancy, improper footwear, or repetitive pounding on a hard surface can weaken the arch leading to over-pronation and oftentimes flat feet.
Problem – Over-pronation adds stress to the foot, tightens calf muscles, and can internally rotate the knees. Over-pronation often leads to Plantar Fasciitis, Heel Spurs, Metatarsalgia, Post-tib Tendonitis and/or Bunions. As many as 20-30% of Americans have flat feet, or over-pronated feet.
Solution – If the arch has already fallen, orthotics are the best bet. If the arch is in the process of falling, or is weak, barefoot running/walking may help strengthen the arches, but be sure to check with your doctor (orthotics may be the best bet in this case as well). For more on barefoot running, check out Barefoot Running Research: Benefits of Barefoot Running.
Identification – Identifying a forward tilt can be tricky, but one method is to purposely tilt your pelvis forward as far as you can, then backward as far as you can. You may realize your natural hip tilt is not far away from the exaggerated forward tilt.
Cause – Sitting too much and not stretching, which shortens the hip flexors
Problem – Forward hip tilt (aka anterior pelvic tilt) is associated with tight hip flexors, which are a group of muscles on the front of your hips that pull the knee upward. As you walk, tight hip flexors prevent the glutes (butt muscles) from firing/activating, which forces the hamstring muscles to become overworked and excessively tight. If you have tight hamstrings, the root cause may be tight hip flexors and an anterior pelvic tilt.
Solution – Stretch your hip flexors with static lunges, such as the Crescent Lunge (See: Yoga For Back Pain), activate your glutes with exercises like glute bridges, and foam roll and stretch your hamstrings.
Identification – Have someone take a photo of you standing sideways. If you notice that your upper back is excessively curved (greater than 40-45 degrees) as in the photo to the right, you have hunchback posture.
Cause – Sitting with bad posture, especially at an office doing computer work
Problem – Sitting hunched over a computer screen forces chest muscles to tighten, which can cause excessive curvature (kyphosis) of the upper back (thoracic spine). Postural muscles in the upper back weaken and loosen.
Solution – Relieve chest tightness with self myofascial release (use a massage ball) and stretching, while strengthening the upper back postural muscles. My favorite exercise for hunchback posture is upper back foam rolling. For more information, check out Correcting Rounded Shoulders From Office Work.
Identification – The “Pencil Test” involves holding a pencil (or pen) in each hand. As shown in the photo above, if the pencils are pointing straight forward with your arms comfortably at your sides, that indicates correct posture. If on the other hand the pencils are facing each other, or are rotated at an angle, then you have internally rotated shoulders.
Cause – Sitting with bad posture, especially in an office while typing, or using an imbalanced exercise routine with excessive chest pressing.
Problem – Sitting hunched over a computer screen forces chest muscles to tighten, which can internally rotate the shoulders forward. Postural muscles in the upper back weaken and loosen.
Solution – The solution is very similar to correcting hunchback posture – relieve chest tightness with self myofascial release (use a massage ball) and stretching, while strengthening the upper back postural muscles. For more information, check out Correcting Rounded Shoulders From Office Work.
Identification – Have someone take a photo of you standing sideways. As shown in the photo to your right, find the AC joint (bony protrusion on the side of your shoulder) and check if your ear lobe is on top of the AC joint. If your ear lobe extends in front of your AC joint, you have a forward head posture.
Cause – Sitting in an office chair hunched over while staring at a computer
Problem – Muscles in the back of the neck become tight, along with the upper trapezius and levator scapulae (upper back muscles).
Solution – First, practice proper head posture by sliding your head backward while keeping your line of sight ahead. Be sure not to tilt your head upwards as you slide your head back. Second, get a massage, or use a massage ball against your upper back, which can be very helpful to help relieve tension around your neck.
While these 5 common posture problems are just scratching the surface of posture as a very important fitness topic, I hope it helps you think more consciously of your posture and is useful for you. If you are serious about improving your posture, I highly recommend the Trigger Point Therapy Total Body Kit.