For many people, post correction is a key component of back pain treatment. Posture – the way we hold ourselves when sitting, standing or laying – can either help protect our backs or be the cause of its pain. The tension and alignment of our soft tissues and joints are affected by posture and the lower back, both highly mobile and load-bearing, is possibly most affected by poor posture.
Are you making any of the following common postural mistakes?
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Since the pelvis is the foundation of the upper body, its position affects and is affected by the position of the lower back. The lumbar spine in the lower back has a natural inward arch that helps balance the forces absorbed by the spine. The inward arch is called lordosis. Often, people have too much lordosis. As the arch increases, the base of the spine is pushed upward. The base of the spine is the sacrum, which attaches to the hip bones via the sacroiliac joints. This causes the back of the pelvis to raise and the front of the pelvis to drop lower.
Anterior pelvic tilt is most often caused by muscle imbalances; tense lower back and weak hamstring and glute muscles can cause the pelvis to be rolled up in back, while tight quads and hip flex pull it down in front without sufficient abdominal-muscles. This may result from imbalanced training or simply standing and sitting with an increased arch for years. Wearing high heels, being overweight and being pregnant all predispose a person to anterior pelvic tilt.
It is important to correct this postural distortion, as it takes a toll on spinal discs, joints and the muscles through the pelvis and back. You may require myofascial release if muscle tension has begun to cause knots in the myofascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles). Exercise to target the abdominal, glute and hamstring muscles will be helpful in conjuction with efforts to relax the tight opposition muscles.
To see if you have anterior pelvic tilt, stand with your back against a wall, making sure your buttocks and shoulders are touching the wall. If there is more than a two-inch gap between your lower back and the wall, you may have hyperlordosis.
This type of postural dysfunction is on the rise due to the proliferation of small electronic devices like iPhones and our increasing reliance on them. Forward head posture is just what is sounds like: The head is positioned in front of the body's mid-line. Ideally, the head is supported by the neck directly over the shoulders. This position maintains the cervical arch within the neck and keeps neck, upper back and shoulder muscles at the appropriate length.
When the head is positioned in front of the body, its weight is no longer balanced on the spine. Rather, the upper back and neck muscles must support it. In order to look straight ahead with forward head, the muscles in the back of your neck must shorten and the cervical arch increases. This can lead to muscular pain, myofascial pain, premature cervical disc wear, cervical joint degeneration and tension headaches.
Often when people crane their heads forward, they are trying to get closer to what they're looking at. Consciousness of this tension combined with efforts to counter it, such as raising objects close to your face, can help to reverse forward head. Myofascial release and stretching exercises will help to relax tight neck and upper back muscles.
We are all guilty of slouching at times. Some slouch when they stand or walk, and this postural mistake is particularly common when sitting. Slouching occurs when the upper back rounds out, the shoulders droop forward and the lower back flattens. Often, forward head companions slouching. The spine is a unit, and changes in one area are often reflected by changes in another.
A leading cause of slouching is core muscle weakness. The muscles of the lower back, pelvis, buttocks and stomach are relied upon to support spinal alignment and elevation of the upper body. If these muscles are not working to do these jobs, the spine will round out and the upper body will sag. Your chances of slouching increase with the amount of time you spend in a sitting or standing position; even the strongest of cores tires out eventually.
One way to counteract slouching is to consciously engage your core muscles when sitting or standing. Focus on your deep abdominal muscles and gently engage them. These muscles support the lower spine. Doing balanced core exercises such as bird dogs, bridges, partial crunches and planks will help to correct slouching. As with other forms of postural distortions, myofascial release may be needed in addition to stretching in order to relax muscles that have been chronically tensed by habitual slouching.
Being aware of common postural mistakes will help prevent you from making them. You can reduce or eliminate back pain by holding your body in proper alignment.