We live in a world that requires us to engage in repetitive movements and to adopt long term set positions that impact on human posture and movement capacity. Office employment, manufacturing work, packaging lines, schooling, computer gaming, driving, commuting, long distant flights and many other elements of modern living dictate our bodily positions on a daily basis. As human posture adapts to our modern environment the knock on effect on our movement capacity can have negative implications on physical fitness and movement purity.
Posture has been defined as the attitude or position of the body and should fulfill three important functions:
- maintaining the alignment of the body’s segments in any position: supine, prone, sitting, quadruped, and standing
- anticipating change to allow engagement in voluntary, goal-directed movements such as reaching and stepping
- reacting to unexpected perturbations or disturbances in balance or centre of gravity
This clearly indicates that posture includes both an active and static state of being. It is vital for balance and control of the body when motionless as well as during a wide variety of different types of human movement. To provide for long term health of the spine and joints optimal postural position is a desirable goal at all times when holding static positions, such as sitting and standing, but also during daily movement and physical activity. This is much easier said than done as postural position is predominantly controlled through subconscious neural controls.
The conscious mind is primarily focused on goal oriented movement and not on the exact positioning of the joints required to ensure each minor element of a larger movement is effective. Can you imagine trying to consciously control every muscle, joint and body part simultaneously in order to carry the basic function of walking? Thankfully our more powerful subconscious brain can manage all of these immensely complex details without our focused mind needing to be invested in this. However, the body has numerous sensory receptors found within the muscles and joints that help to provide neural feedback regarding limb and spinal position, speed of movement, and the forces passing through the muscles and joints in order to subconsciously control the response required for each one of these factors. These receptors constantly gather vital information on behalf of the nervous system to ensure we are able to fully understand and can respond to our own bio-mechanical movements and the forces that we are subjected to constantly throughout each day.
Where joint or muscular dysfunction has crept in and movement purity has become corrupted the control of subconscious human movement may no longer fall within an optimal range. Such adulterated movement will likely lead to a shift in centre of gravity, faulty loading through the muscles and uneven forces passing through the joints. If left unchecked the chronic application of such movement impurity can lead to muscular tension, fascial adhesions, joint wear and tear and gradual breakdown of important structural tissues. These undesirable dysfunctional outcomes can be managed and reversed if they are identified, and a suitable corrective strategy is introduced and applied.
A corrective strategy should involve a carefully planned process of adjustment and relearning of motor control. An effective way to support a client and plan to correct their faulty movement patterns is as follows:
- carry out a postural assessment and identify faulty position
- assess movement purity and identify any muscular dysfunction
- determine a corrective strategy based on the assessment observations
- mobilise joint range of motion where limitations exist
- select relevant strengthening movement exercises
- apply an appropriate level of intensity to ensure good position and technique
- gradually progress the challenge, provided movement purity is maintained
It would be impossible in a simple blog to cover all variations in postural position and movement dysfunction. But here is an example of a common and relatively simple dysfunction to address:
The Flat Back posture (thoracic kyphosis)
- Thoracic spine in a flexed position
- Cervical spine in an extended position
- Pelvis is in a posterior tilted position
- Hips are in an extended position
Overactive, shortened muscles that require stretching:
- Hamstring group
- Rectus abdominis
- Upper trapezius
- Sternocleidomastoid & scalenes
Underactive, lengthened muscles that need strengthening:
- Mid-trapezius and rhomboids
- Neck flexors
- Lumbar erector spinae
These exercises would become part of the workout preparation before each gym session and can even be done as part of light activity on a rest/recovery day. Committing to regular application can be a powerful tool in resolving posture and human movement, which ultimately will lead to better performance in the long term.