Nicole: Welcome to the Pain Free Podcast with me, Nicole Parsons, and my guest …
Andy: Andy Ritchie.
Nicole: So today we’re going to be talking about the top posture myths.
Andy: Yeah, I thought I’d get together a list of five questions here that are typically asked with regards to understanding your own posture. And I wondered if you could share some insight into them, if I asked you them?
Nicole: That sounds great Andy.
Andy: Okay, so the first one is … What is posture all about? Is it just about standing up straight and sitting up straight all the time?
Nicole: That’s a great question Andy. This is generally where posture has been misunderstood. It’s something that we know that when we were younger, our parents said, “Stand up straight. You need to stand up straight; you need to sit up straight. And you need to have good posture.” So this is a myth that is really prevalent and I hear this asked a lot.
Posture, rather than it actually being just about how you sit and how you stand … the correct definition of posture is maintaining the integrity of your joint position, independent of what position you’re in.
Nicole: So what that actually means Andy is that we know posture is sitting up straight and standing up straight because we are looking at the load bearing joints being correctly aligned with the gravital plain. We have eight load bearing joints: your ankles, your knees, your hips, the three curves of your spine (the lumbar, the thoracic, and cervical), your shoulder joints, and your head sitting nicely over the top.
So that is correct posture. And if we are standing up straight and sitting up straight then our load bearing joints are stacking over the top of each other with nice right angles at each of the joints.
If you imagine a stack of children’s building blocks, the little square wooden building blocks. If they are sitting right on top of the other, then they are within the gravity line, and they have a good center of gravity and they are balanced. Now if I take one of those blocks and push it out of place, towards the bottom of the stack, you will then have to move the other blocks above that in opposite directions to regain the center of gravity to balance that tower. The body is very much the same.
Good posture actually means maintaining the alignment of your joints when you are sitting, when you are standing, when you are moving, when you’re walking, when you’re running, when you’re playing football, when you’re playing netball, when you are squatting down, when you are lifting something overhead. So any movement that you’re making … and also when you are lying down. Any movement that you are making that your joints are maintaining their correct alignment. And when you come back up to an upright position, they also maintain their integrity.
Does that make sense?
Andy: Yeah, it makes complete sense. It’s not just about when my mom was saying, “Make sure you sit up straight and sit up for the right angle.” It’s not just about sitting; it’s making sure that whatever position you’re in, that I’m aligned to this gravitational plain. What do you mean by the gravitational plain? Where I’m stood, I have to be perfectly balanced on the center of my body, is that what you’re saying?
Nicole: If you think … you can also call the gravital line the plum line, which is something that people are more familiar with. You know, if you have a plum line hanging from the ceiling to show whether something is correct or aligned.
Andy: Okay, I’ve got you.
Nicole: But what that means … so the gravital line, or balance and alignment, means that the left side of your body and the right side of your body are level. There is no elevation. So one is not higher than the other. And there’s no rotation.
Nicole: From the side, the muscles at the front of your body and the muscles at the back of your body are balanced to hold your joints stacked over the top of each other.
Andy: Okay that makes complete sense. That clears a lot up for me, thank you for that. The second question I have is, is poor posture really caused by growing old and aging?
Nicole: That’s another huge myth that needs to be busted, and a great question. It really looks like, when we look out into the world, that as you get older your posture deteriorates, because that is what we commonly see. We commonly see that people, as they age, their posture deteriorates. Now, is there a correlation between the number of years you’ve been alive and the state of your posture, either poor, deteriorating, or bad?
Actually there is no correlation between those. What it is is that we are living in an environment that strips the movement out of the environment, so our body doesn’t have the stimulus to the muscles. So therefore, as we get older the muscles compensate further and further, and at some point as the compensations increase then gravity takes hold and accelerates that process. So that’s why we see towards the end of people’s lives their compensation is so compromised that gravity is taking hold and pulling their body forwards.
Andy: So they’ve had this bad alignment at a particular age, and not done anything about it. So as they grow that bad alignment continues to get worse and worse. It’s just the total number of years of that bad alignment versus just their age factor itself.
Nicole: Exactly that. It’s the number of years you have been living without doing anything to correct or rebalance your posture, and stimulate your muscles to hold your joints in correct and natural alignment.
Andy: Okay, that makes sense. The next question I have is, is my posture really something that’s genetic? It is passed down in my genes?
Nicole: This is another one that people do often ask me, and again it really can look like that because I get clients come in and they say, “Well, my gran had rounded shoulders and my dad has got rounded shoulders, and I’ve got rounded shoulders. So I think it’s genetic.” Or, they’ll come in with bunions and they’ll again, usually down the female line, “My gran had them, my mom had them, and I’ve got them.”
Again the answer is that … there is no link between your genetics. There is not a gene for posture. Posture is entirely the body’s response to its environment over time. Now here’s where the link comes in with families. What we tend to do … this is nature versus nurture. In families we tend to live in a similar way to our families, to our mothers and fathers, and to the way that their parents or their grandparents lived. You do say similar things, you do similar activities, or you are sedentary in the same way. And so because you live your life in a similar way to your parents and grandparents, then those same postural issues will appear.
However, if you correct those postural issues via postural alignment corrective exercises, then you will have resolved that issue, and you can see that there is no link between where your parents’ posture is, and where your posture is.
Andy: That’s really interesting. I wondered … another question I have, slightly relevant there that makes me think of it … is it possible that my posture can really be changed long term?
Nicole: Again, this is another question of belief that people come into my clinic with, is that … “Well, this is just how I am, this is just how I’m made.” I’ve had clients come in and have been told … I had one client come in and he was told at the age of 40, he had a kyphotic upper back, which is a severe rounding of the upper thoracic spine which throws your head forward. It’s really that position you do associate with the older generation, of that really hunched back. He’d been told by a physio that he was 40 now and that he would probably never be able to change that. Well, within a few months of doing postural corrective exercises he had completely corrected his upper thoracic kyphosis or that hunched back position in his upper back, and had a functional upper back that wasn’t giving him pain, and also looked strong and healthy. He really looked years younger.
So can your posture be changed long term? Absolutely. Because your musculoskeletal system is an adaptable system. And the way that the musculoskeletal system changes is by adapting to its environment. It adapts to the stimulus it is given most often. So if the stimulus your musculoskeletal system is given most often is sitting … and if you think about the sitting position, you’ve got your hips flexed or in a closed position. You’ve got a rounded spine. Your head is forwards. So if that’s this position you’re in most often, then your muscles will accommodate and adapt to that position, because they’re being helpful.
Ergo, if you put a positive stimulus into the body, which is the corrective exercises … and all we’re doing is reconnecting the neuro muscular pathway … so the correct movement pathway is still there, that brain’s muscle pathway is still there … that is your wiring for the human blueprint, or the way that your body was designed.
What happens is over time your body takes a shortcut across the grass so many times, that it creates a new pathway or workaround. Your body then is running on that compensated movement pathway. Now what we do with the postural alignment therapy corrective exercises is we send the right stimulus from your brain to that muscle to reopen the correct movement pathway.
Now you’ve got two movement pathways open. You’ve got the compensatory movement pathway, which is really wide and ingrained like a river that’s had a lot of water running through it. And we’ve got the correct movement pathway, which hasn’t been used as often, because you’ve been working with compensated movement. As we start to open that pathway up with corrective exercise, it’s like having a trickle of water running through that stream to open it up.
The way that you can permanently change your posture in the long run is by entraining your body. That’s by doing your postural alignment corrective exercises regularly. So doing them daily so that you then put a lot of flow down the correct movement pathway to make that a nice deep wide and trained channel, like that deep river.
Then because you are training that correct movement pathway, and then going and moving in your daily life, that reinforces the correct movement pathway. What will happen with the compensatory movement pathway is that … because you are now not putting the flow, you’ve diverted the flow, down that channel. It will then dry up. So that movement pathway closes up the compensatory pathway, and you have re patterned our body back to correct movement patterns.
Now that takes consistent work with the correct exercises that are individually selected for your individual postural type. And you have to do the work, is the other factor with that. As a postural alignment specialist, I will not be correcting your body, but you can, in the long run, correct your own posture permanently. So the short answer is, yes Andy, you can.
Andy: That’s fantastic. I guess the final question I have is, has my posture really got anything to do with my pain? I feel like I’ve put a lot of weight on it, but I’m not sure it’s something my posture has been causing me. How do I know that it’s something with my alignment, or the way I stand, sit, lay down, et cetera?
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. That is quite … it’s not a link that we easily make, the link between posture and pain. And it’s not an obvious link, because when we have pain we tend to look out into the world, and we say, “It’s my bed. It’s my job. It’s running that’s hurt my knees. My knees are in pain because I went running.” Those external factors are a contributory factor, but they are not the root cause.
The link between posture and pain is that your posture is the root cause of the pain, and here’s why. It’s not the activity that you are doing; it is the body that you take to that activity. If we go back to the human blueprint, the eight load bearing joints stacking over the top of each other and in line with the gravity line, or the plum line … that is the way that the human musculoskeletal system is designed to work, and it’s been working that way for approximately two million years. When it’s in this position, it is strong, stable. It has full flexibility, and it is able to respond and react to its environment in any given movement pattern without any warm up and pain.
The reason people probably think, “I’ve got to warm up.” Paleolithic man didn’t do a warm up before he went and ran after his lunch, or away from a predator, or climbed over something, or started swimming. Now the reason we need to warm up is because we have postural misalignment and compensation within our body. If the musculoskeletal system and the human design is running exactly as it should do, then we are responsive and we can move with power and strength and speed at a moment’s notice.
What happens is, as our body moves away from correct alignment … so what if you imagine there is a piece of string joining all of your joints. So your ankles through to the knees, through to the shoulders, through to the head, and all the way around in a loop. If you move one of those joints out of position then all of the other joints will have to reorganize relative to that joint’s incorrect position, because the body is a system and it is a unit, and it always responds as a unit.
The root cause of the pain is that there is muscle compensation which has moved the joint out of position, because muscles move bones, a bone can’t move itself. If you hold a skeleton up it will fall to the floor and to gravity. It is the muscles that are holding it up against gravity, and also dictating its position.
So what that means is that when that joint has moved out of correct alignment, and is affecting the rest of the system causing compensation throughout the chain, your joint is in a position where it is under uneven and stressful loading, when you are standing, when you are sitting, and when you are moving.
So I will use the example of the knee joint. The knee joint is a fantastic hinge joint. If you imagine the hinge opening and closing, but if we twist the thigh bone and the shin bone in opposite directions, and then ask the knee joints to hinge, there’s going to be rotation there. The position of the muscles is dictating the position of the joint. Then when you’re going to a movement situation, you are getting uneven loading and wear and tear to the joint.
This affects all of the structures. It will affect cartilage. It will affect the ligaments, the tendons, the muscles. Over time, if there is cartilage wearing, it will actually affect the bone as well.
The pain that you are feeling is a result of incorrect loading, or poor posture alignment and incorrect loading of that joint, causing stress to the structures around it. The body’s pain signal is there specifically to tell you that there is a problem that needs to be resolved.
Andy: So if I’m listening to this, and I think, okay, I feel like a lot of my pain that I’m having in my knee and my back has a lot to do with my posture … what’s the first step I can take to overcoming it?
Nicole: Absolutely Andy. Well, one of the things that you can do is, if you’d like to talk to me personally, then you can visit nicoleparsons.co.uk and contact me, and we can arrange a free conversation where we can discuss your individual circumstances and the issues you’re trying to resolve, and how postural alignment therapy can specifically help you.
And then I can help you to develop and individualized program of exercises, of corrective exercises, to resolve your pain at the root cause.
Andy: That’s fantastic Nicole, thank you for that. I feel like this whole episode has been around the importance of consistent, having good consistent posture, and how it’s entirely related to how the body reacts to its environment over time, and what that can result to in the long run.
Thank you, that clears up a lot of the five questions I had. Is there anything else you want to close with?
Nicole: Great, well I’m glad that’s given you a little bit more insight into posture, what posture is … the really key factor there is the link between posture and the pain that listeners may be feeling in any joint in their body, or in any area of their musculoskeletal system.
Once you’ve seen that posture is the root cause of your pain, it allows you to know where your pain is coming from, and also, then you can have practical tools that empower you to be able to correct that root cause issue, resolve your pain, and reclaim your pain free active life.
That’s great. Well thank you so much and I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast. And thank you for listening.