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Poor Posture

poor posture

Ever wondered why you feel physically drained from the tip of your neck to the very end of your toes after a day at work? Why you have chronic back or neck pain? If you look around the office at the way people walk, sit or stand, you’ll see shoulders rotated forward, necks protruding forward, abdominals pushed forward, some have already developed humps at the back of their necks and an all-round slouched back. “Why” do you ask? Poor posture.

“Malalignment of the pelvis, spine and extremities remains one of the frontiers in medicine, unrecognized as a cause of over 50% of back and limb pain.”  – Schamberger, W., 2002.

What is posture? “

Posture is the physical representation of the organization of body parts as dictated by interaction of the mind, nervous and musculoskeletal system.” – Sutton, R., 2004.

In laymen’’s terms, it’s the position from which movement begins and ends. All the symptoms mentioned above when looking at your co-workers falls in the category of poor posture. That hump on the back of the old lady working in accounts is a result of kyphosis. This is an exaggerated thoracic curvature, pushing the head forward and leads to respiratory insufficiency, because, if you think about it, if you keep on crouching forward with your back, you are limiting the space in which your chest can push out when breathing in. So what you’re doing is taking smaller breaths because your lungs are being conditioned in that way which leads to less oxygen being transported throughout the body making everything beg for air!

In return you are registering tiredness, weak muscles, lethargy. It’s one big vicious cycle. Ladies, it’s all about posture! Everything comes back to posture! Poor posture damages body tissue and disrupts balance. The main reason for poor posture is muscle imbalance. As most of our movements occur in the sagittal plane, as in forward, we often neglect the muscles on the posterior side.

What is ideal posture?

This simply involves a minimal amount of stress or strain, and is contributing to maximal efficiency of the body. This means optimal performance of movement systems and this can only be maintained through a periodic movement variety in more than one direction. If you are constantly doing the same movements in one direction, it results in disruptions in the ability to maintain accurate movement of the various tissues in your body. Let’s take an example and again I’ll use kyphosis. If you do isolated abdominal crunches (sit-ups) continuously, you are shortening the muscles. Think about it, moving up and down working the muscles in the same direction, it will shorten. So now they are tight and you immediately have shoulders that will slump to compensate for the shorter abdominals. This leads to non-structural kyphosis, which we’ve established is a forward curvature of the upper part of your back. This in turn will lead to a decrease in mobility of the thorax, increasing work in breathing. So you have respiratory insufficiency because you have to work three times harder to get the same amount of air into the body.

So what do I do to prevent/fix this?

It’s definitely not a quick fix thing as most of the changes we want in life. Simple things you can do in the office, while in front of your desk are:

  • Pull your scapula bones (your angel wings on your back) towards your spine and    down. This will open your chest.
  • Ensure your computer screen is inline with your eyes so that you don’t have to look down at it and cause tension on your neck and trapezius muscles.
  • Activate your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are located deep in your abdomen and can be located by imagining you have a big wee and you have to keep it in. Those of you who have had children and went to Lamaze classes would know about these muscles. You activate these muscles the same way you locate them. Imagine holding in a wee! Simple! Try to activate these muscles by contracting for 30 seconds and relax for 10 seconds. Repeat this five times and repeat the set again later during the day. Try to do at least five sets in your day.


Try to elongate your upper body by taking a deep breath in and breathe out but hold the body position. When you breathe, make use of your intercostal muscles that are between your ribs, and use your diaphragm. They were created to do the work when breathing, so use them! I’m sure you’ll even feel a little dizzy after breathing like this because all of a sudden you are getting more oxygen to the brain! (This might even lead to increased work efficiency!)


When you are in the same position for a long time, i.e. sitting in front of your computer or driving far, try to move your limbs at least every 15 minutes. This will lead to increase blood flow in the body and prevent tight muscles. Stretch upward with your arms straight and palms facing the ceiling. Imagine you are pushing the ceiling higher, one hand at a time. You can also stretch your arms to the side, palms facing the walls. This will sometimes awakens a tingly sensation through your arm which means you’ve just awoken a sleepy nerve. You will feel your oblique’s on the side of your body stretching as well as the muscles in your back.

Here is to good posture!

Izanne van den Berg, BA Sport Science, Stellenbosch University

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