With slouching, text neck and scoliosis seemingly being the norm today I was duly surprised by this newspaper clipping my parents sent about my former ballet teacher who just turned 90.
She looks more upright and energetic than most 40 year olds!
What is her secret?
I think posture is a key element. Good posture and movement patterns have far-reaching health benefits and should be part of our modern living habits.
In Hong Kong back pain is one of the most prevalent complaints of the workforce and that includes jobs that are not very physical. Worse though, more and more young people and children are suffering pain and early onset spinal degeneration often due to excessive screen time. Phones, tablets and laptops all require us to look down, which puts too much stress on our necks and backs.
I enjoy working as an osteopath and helping patients recover from their pain,
BUT: I want to do more to help you avoid getting pain in the first place.
The equation of us developing pain is generally simple: we demand more of our physical structure than it can cope with and before it starts to break we get pain as a warning that something is not right and we need to change/stop what we are doing.
This can happen quickly. For example if we fall and twist an ankle or sprain our back trying to lift something very heavy. These types of injuries have a clear root cause and are easily resolved with some rest and appropriate treatment. Especially when we have a good postural pattern to return to. If not, then we start to walk around with residual strains in our body that begin to give us problems from time to time.
Most of the time, the onset of pain is slower. Often my patients don’t ‘really’ know what triggered their acute episode of pain. “I only bent down to pick up a pencil”, “I woke up with it”, “The pain just started to build up while I was travelling a lot for work”.
Picking up pencils, sleeping or sitting should not pose big challenges for our bodies.
Why did they overstretch our capacities?
Stress is certainly a big issue in Hong Kong. Our body is not relaxed and at optimal flexibility when we are tense from the never-ending demands that we are confronted with. We have to address what stresses us if we want to become more resilient.
It is however true is also true that, when we are more comfortable in our bodies, we also have more resources to deal with stress.
Our body and the shape of our spine have developed to support us gracefully in relationship to the ground, using a sound structural alignment and making use of gravity to actually lift our bodies up without using a lot of muscle strength.
You can see beautiful vertical alignment in the lady in the slideshow at the bottom. She has been working for us for three years now and is a very good example for the point I am making here. She never has back pain and her energy levels are very good.
I challenge you to get someone take a picture of you in your normal relaxed standing posture and then compare it to the picture here. I want to draw your attention to her ankle, knee, hip, shoulder and ear. They all line up very well on top of each other.
Even supposedly posture-aware people like yoga practitioners and dancers often have problematic alignment. They typically push their chest out to the point where they start to overextend their back. This compresses the sensitive facet joints of the spine and also leads to physical fatigue as the spine is moved out of its centre of gravity.
Also: patients often think that gaining some weight is the culprit of their pain. This should not be the case with good posture and adequate strength of the back muscles.
Apart from keeping our body in better alignment while standing, sitting, walking and sleeping (yes, we can also go wrong with sleeping positions) we need strong muscles at the back sides of our bodies to keep our spines healthy.
A sedentary lifestyle and activities that always require us to lean forward and use our hands in front of us (e.g. screen time, school work) cause the muscles of our back to lengthen and weaken.
I was surprised to find out that astronauts in space, in zero gravity, actually report more low back pain compared to when they are on earth. The studies say that the reason is the weakening of their back muscles. So even in weightlessness we have to keep our back muscles strong if we want to avoid back pain. This just proves that we have to put more emphasis on strengthening our posterior muscle chain, which includes our hamstrings, gluts and back muscles.
The good news is that just by adopting a better posture and movement patterns, our backs inadvertently get stronger. Not everything that trains our muscles has to take time out of our day.
Good posture also helps to keep our internal organs in better working order. We breath better, get more oxygen, are more energetic and think more clearly. Our heart and intestines, as well as our reproductive organs have adequate space and function well.
All in all, it is a pretty good deal. If we improve our posture and strengthen our backs, we not only avoid pain but become healthier overall.
Learn more spine friendly postures and movement patterns that help to strengthen your back, and be a good role model to your children (remember one of their main means of learning is by imitation!). I am now offering postural education sessions at Stanley Wellness Centre. If you are interested for yourself or your child please call us at +852 2372 9700.
Posture education helps you get your back pain under control!
PS: If you are suffering a very acute episode of pain then osteopathic treatment is indicated until you are stable enough to try new posture exercises. Contact Stanley Wellness Centre for more information at +852 2372 9700.back pain Osteopathy posture