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Good posture can prevent many aches and pains

  • Published
  • By Maj. Rett Reber
  • 375th Medical Operations Squadron

Back pain is all too common.  As a physical therapist, I see patients every day who struggle with pain in their neck, upper back, lower back and shoulders.  Although there can be many causes of these conditions, there is a simple factor that contributes to pain and is a large part of the solution: posture.


Let's examine a recipe for muscle imbalance and poor posture.  In our military culture, we often perform physical training that consists of pushups, sit ups and running.  Then, we return to the office and sit at our computers for hours.  The body will negatively adapt to these conditions.


First, let's look closer at the physical training.  The pushup is a body resistance exercise that strengthen the pushing muscles in our chest, shoulders and arms.  This is good for training for the fitness assessment. 


However, it makes those same muscles tight, pulling our upper back and shoulders forward.  This can be countered by performing chest stretches after exercise.  Hold the stretches for at least 60 seconds. 


Another way to combat this forward shoulder posture is to perform more volume and intensity of exercises that focus on "pulling" such as rows, pull ups, and pull downs. This strengthens the upper back muscles that hold your shoulders and back in an upright position.


The next exercise commonly performed is sit ups.  This creates strength in the abdominals and the hip flexors.  Although this exercise is required for the test, it is not a functional movement, meaning we rarely move with a sit up motion in daily functions.  Tight hip flexors and forward flexed spine are often the result of too much sit up training. 


The counter for this imbalance is to stretch the hip flexors and abdomen.  Performing a pressup (cobra yoga pose) on the ground is a great exercise for this purpose.  Standing hip and low back extension can be a good substitute when you are not in a situation where dropping to the ground is appropriate.


Furthermore, I recommend substituting most of your sit up training with front and side planks.  The U.S. Army performed a study comparing a group of soldiers that trained only with planks and a group that trained only with sit ups.  Results showed that performance on a sit up test were equal between the groups.  Another finding was that the group of soldiers that performed the plank training had significantly less back pain ... big bonus.


Finally and most importantly, consciously and intentionally sitting with an upright posture with your shoulders back can prevent many aches and pains.  This position of "attention" aligns your vertebrae and intervertebral discs to distribute pressures evenly.  When there are uneven pressures in your spine, micro injuries occur over time.  It is like driving your car with the tires on one side at a much lower pressure ... damage will occur.


Holding perfect posture all day is difficult.  This is because gravity never gives up and we live in a society that facilitates poor posture.  Here are some helpful tips to maintaining good posture: 


1. Place reminder sticky notes at your workstation with "sit up straight" or "attention!" 

2. Perform hourly stretches or exercises to break up the time you are sitting. 

3. Obtain a standing desk ... it is much easier to have correct posture standing. 

4. Don't give up. Your muscles and spine will take time to condition to correct posture.


Having correct posture is important to the health of your spine.  Dedicate time to develop improved posture and back strength.  It will pay great dividends as you serve your military career, play sports, and work long hours.  


Remember, be safe as you exercise.  If you have any questions about posture or back exercises, please contact the Physical Therapy Clinic at 256-6280 or the Health and Wellness Center at 256-7139.