Do you think that we know how to walk and move properly? You may be thinking that’s a silly question, of course I know how to walk. Are you sure? Most of us have injuries, muscle and joint pain, even if we did not do anything specific to aggravate it. But how we walk, stand, and all the repetitive movements that we do can cause imbalances and eventually pain or discomfort in certain areas in the body.
It would be great it we could all get help from a physiotherapist or other professional to understand our own body type and learn correct posture. But what if you can’t get help, maybe you don’t have anyone in your area who can help or they are just too expensive? Here are some examples and exercises that you can use to identify and hopefully improve your movement quality in your daily life.
First, our bodies are very smart and will always take the path of least resistance to move. For example, if you have back pain then you will probably subconsciously compromise your posture so that it is as comfortable as possible, likely via a posterior tilt (curling back) of the pelvis. Over time this eventually becomes a repetitive movement pattern in your daily life, but did you know that repetitive impairment of movement can accelerate the development of osteoarthritis? This is a degenerative joint disease in which the tissues in the joint break down over time, and it is the most common type of arthritis, especially in older people.
It is very important too to understand that if your friend has a similar back or shoulder pain as you do then you don’t necessarily need to do the same treatment to heal as they are doing. We all have a different structure, but more than that we all have very different causes for whatever injury we might have. So it is important to identify why you stand or feel a certain way, and then you can try to find the root cause.
Let’s say you have back pain when you bend over. First, if something hurts then stop doing the movement and respect the pain. Second, think about what could be the limiting factors that are causing the pain? Maybe your back muscles are not strong enough, maybe you have tight hamstrings or hip flexors? Try to pay attention as you move with very light stretches on the muscles around the affected area, one at a time, and watch how your body responds. Likely your body will let you know very quickly what you need to stretch or strengthen. For example, most people who have back pain have tight abdominal muscles, so stretching those muscles can reduce their symptoms. You need to observe which muscles have more stiffness and which are more flexible.
Try looking in the mirror sideways, or taking a picture, to see how you stand. Are you leaning back, arching your back, or curling your spine? You can also stand against a wall and see if your back is arching too far from the wall or touching firmly? How about your shoulders, are they touching the wall or rolling forward? Even if you are not immediately sure how to change it, the first important step is to see your posture and identify how you stand.
Try to be aware of your posture throughout the day, especially if you have a sedentary job. Making adjustments such as adding padding on your chair or putting something under your foot to elevate is easy and can make a big difference. Keep your back straight (with a neutral spine) and your knees at hip level or slightly lower, and your hips should be as far back as possible in the chair. Also make sure that you take short breaks to walk or stretch if you are sitting for long periods.
When standing your shoulders should be aligned with your ears, abdominal muscles tight, feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent, and your head level and in line with your body. Good posture involves aligning your body in a way that reduces stress on the muscles, ligaments, and bones, and enhances your overall body function. This, and improving the movement quality, will greatly reduce your risk of injury and is essential for overall health and wellbeing.
Regular stretching, strength training, balance and stability exercises and hydration give you comprehensive understanding about your own body and how to take care of it. Integrating these practices into your daily routine can lead to significant improvements in your movement quality over time.
National Institute of Health. “Osteoarthritis”. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoarthritis
National Library of Medicine. “Diagnosis and treatment of movement system impairment syndromes”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693453/
National Library of Medicine. “Guide to Good Posture”. https://medlineplus.gov/guidetogoodposture.html
Better Health Channel. “Posture”. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/posture
Multiple Sclerosis Trust. “Good and bad posture”. https://mstrust.org.uk/a-z/understanding-and-improving-your-posture/good-and-bad-posture