Updated: Nov 23, 2021
Chronic pain ( pain that is present in our body all of the time) can have many underlying causes. I caution you to seek advice from your physician to find a solution that is specific to your needs, but often the experience of this pain can be lessened when we correct poor postural habits.
Last Wednesday, Rosalind Ferry, a retired physiotherapist from British Columbia, with over 40 years of experience, addressed my Virtual Fitness Students about the common postural problems that she saw in her practice. According to Rosalind, the most important step that we can take toward easing pain in our neck and back is to be mindful about our posture, or lack thereof, throughout our waking hours.
Rosalind suggests that we have a friend or family member take pictures of us while we are sitting and standing, preferably unknowingly, because often we think we are maintaining perfect posture when we are not. Once we see how out of alignment we are, we can then work to improve our situation. Rosalind gave us three alignment tips that are easy to remember that will help us to find and maintain our own ideal posture. I also suggest having a mirror nearby when exercising so that you can be mindful while training. This will prevent you from strengthening your misaligned position.
Let's begin by adjusting our sitting position. Rosalind suggests that we sit on our hands with our palms facing upwards. Feel the bony protrusions that are your sitting bones. Now gently rock back and forth until you find the spot where you feel centered and tension free. Then align the shoulders over the hips and complete by aligning your head over spine in a pain free position. See the illustrations below. All images printed with permission of the author.
Be careful not to sit ramrod straight because this can cause other problems. Your spine should feel straight but not rigid.
Next Rosalind asks us to assess the level of tension in our necks so that we can begin to find a position that is pain free. Place one hand on the back of your neck and feel the tension in your muscles. Now with a straight spine, hip hinge forward while still holding the neck. You should feel the muscles tighten. Now rise back up and adjust the position of your head backwards until you feel the muscles relax. Whether standing or sitting, we can easily remember to ease the tension by making this simple adjustment. We will know when it is time to readjust when we begin to feel an increase in pain after prolonged sitting or standing.
We want to be mindful of the position of our shoulders. Often they are rounded forward. Simply lift them gently and roll them backwards until you feel the shoulder blades slide down your rib cage toward your back pockets. This will help to ease the tension in the muscles on top of the shoulders at the neck. Rosalind suggests imagining there are weights in our elbows pulling our arms downward.
Breathing well is an integral part of stress and pain relief and the illustration below highlights how the diaphragm is impeded in a common slouched position. If you follow the techniques for aligning your lower back, upper back and neck, you will be able to breathe better and will be better able to manage stress and tension in your body. We want to breathe slow and low into the belly to maximize the full capability of the lungs.
To prevent falls and maintain our good posture when standing, Rosalind wants us to keep our head over our feet. When we are walking, we need to allow for the natural opposite arm and forward leg swing and we must keep our head over our hips, instead of allowing our chin to jut forward.
Rosalind wants us to remember to plant our feet if we suddenly discover that we are walking on ice. She says that people fall because they try to lift their feet, when in reality we need to keep our body weight on our feet and shuffle to safety.
Finally, Rosalind's last tip was that we need to change our position every 20 minutes throughout the day to avoid the effect of poor posture. Our body depends on frequent movement to stay healthy and pain free.
I hope that these tips will help you to ease pain in your neck, back and shoulders. You can reference Rosalind's book, The Posture Pain Fix - How to fix your back, neck and other postural problems that cause pain in your body, for more alignment tips.
See you soon,