Do you ever find yourself hunched over with your shoulders and head hanging forward? Do you notice that your upper back, neck and lower back often ache? I hear many people talk about the importance of good posture but how many of us really take the time to notice and correct it?
Our body structures work as one total unit. Just as a building is held together by framing, beams, panels and rebar, our bodies are held together with bones, connective tissue and joints. In a building, all of the materials must be sturdy enough to keep that structure from collapsing, and our bodies are no different. If one part of our structural unit is not working correctly, a chain reaction occurs. For example, if we slouch our shoulders, they will roll forward causing our upper back muscles to become over-stretched and our chest muscles, or pectorals, to become contracted. This can ,in turn, cause the head to roll forward and put pressure on our cervical (neck) muscles and adversely affect the curvature in our spine.
Before I explain a few simple exercises you can perform yourself to improve the curve in your spine, (and therefore helping to alleviate back/neck pain), here is an easy way to check how efficient your posture is:
- Stand with the back of the head touching the wall. Heels should be six inches from the baseboard. With your buttocks touching the wall, check the distance with your hand between your neck and the wall. If you’re within two inches at the neck, you are close to a good posture. If not, the neck posture is too forward and can be subject to deterioration of joints and discs.
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In an ideal posture, your head should be standing tall, your shoulders back with your chest out, and your buttocks slightly sticking out to create a small but noticeable curve in your lower back.
The image on the right displays what your posture should look like. As you can see, the body on the left, has his head hanging forward and shoulders rolling forward, with his abdominal muscles pulled forward which causes an unhealthy curve in the spine.
Re-Patterning Exercises for the Spine:
Coming up from the Top of the Head:
This is to help you become aware of the top of your head. Slightly rock your head back and then pretend as if a skyhook is attached at the top of your head to pull you skyward. As you come up from the top of your head, your neck should become longer. Just let your arms and hands hang. Try to focus on doing this every time you notice that your head is rolling forward, or when you are slouching.
Roll up/Roll Down:
Stand with your back to the wall. Step with your feet out away from the wall a half step; your back should remain against the wall. Vertebrae by vertebrae, slowly roll down, starting with the head, towards the floor with your head, neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible. As you roll down, bend your legs at the knees to help in this motion as needed. Once you have completely rolled over, roll back up one vertebra at a time all the way to the head with your feet pushing into the floor as you roll. Make sure to push into the wall as you go up. This exercise will help to create length in the spine and decompress your vertebrae.
Start by standing with your feet parallel and less that shoulder-width apart. Next, roll down as if you are going into a modified child’s pose (a standing child’s pose if you will) where you will remain with your body folded, or rolled forward as far forward as is comfortable, i.e. in a squatting position. Rest the back of your hands on the floor (palms up) at your side, with your arms totally relaxed. Once you are in the modified child’s pose with your feet as close to flat on the floor as possible, act as if a skyhook is grabbing the top of your sacrum and slowly pulling you upward. Allow your upper body to just hang and be totally relaxed as your legs extend to the point just before your knees lock, keeping them slightly bent. Keep your arms and head relaxed – hanging down as you now begin to roll your spine up, stacking one vertebra at a time on top of your sacrum. As you are rolling up, you may feel spots that don’t move as freely as others. You should stop at any of the areas that feel stuck and take a deep breath into the back focusing on the area to loosen. Repeat the breathing at each segment that is stuck. Once you have rolled all the way up, relax your neck and shoulders and slowly let your head tilt forward, allowing the weight of your head to pull the rest of your spine along as you roll over one vertebra at a time. Finally, roll down as far as is comfortable and slowly roll back up one vertebra at a time repeating the process 3 to 5 times.
Stand erect coming up form the top of your head and arms at your sides. Ball your hands up into fists with your thumbs out (as if you were hitch-hiking.) Raise your arms out to the side making sure both shoulders remain even. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and with your palms facing down toward the floor (thumbs pointed forward), rotate your arms in a 6 inch diameter circle forward, toward your extended thumb. To reverse the circles, turn your palms to face the ceiling and circle backward toward your extended thumbs.
NOTE: Start with 20 circles each direction once daily.
Some of these exercises may seem technical but once you try them 3 or 4 times you will get it and be able to do it whenever you get a spare minute during the day. Personally, I like to do these right when I wake up in the morning not only to get my spine loose and ready for the day, but it also helps me wake up and get the blood pumping through my veins.
At first, you may notice that your spine is not incredibly mobile and perhaps quite stiff. But in my experience, I have seen my clients improve mobility and decrease back pain just by doing these exercises once a day. It’s also a great way to stay aware of your body, your pain, and your posture.
If you’re looking for massage and bodywork in Salt Lake City, Utah please contact me at (801) 349-3934.