My neck! My back! My neck and my back!
It used to be the plight of a desk secretary. They were soon joined by scientists who spend hours at a microscope, lawyers who sit 80 billable hours in front of a computer, salespeople who log countless hours behind the wheel, and cyclists who pedal for miles and miles as aero as they can manage. It all looks the same. A over-flexed lumbar spine that’s meant to extend, a rounded thoracic spine, and a hyperextended cervical spine so that we can see the computer, the horizon, the road.
Why is it important to counter the extremes we’re living and riding in? Have you ever heard an elderly person say “I USED to be 5”10” but now I’m only…(several inches shorter) Picture an older lady with upper back so rounded she can no longer reach the top shelf. Now granted, some age related changes are inevitable, but many posture related pathologies are totally preventable.
You better check yo’self
Test yourself right now where you’re sitting or standing. Slump as far as you can into the worst posture you can attain (think teenage boy sitting in front of a video game) your low back is rounded your shoulders are forward your head is forward. Now, without changing your posture, reach up as high as you can with your left arm. How far do you get? Not much past shoulder height? Now adjust your posture. Sit up tall with your back straight, your shoulders back, your chest out (think soldier at attention) Now, reach your left arm up as high as you can. How far do you reach?
What happened? Surely the difference isn’t all posture related? Well, what else changed? Changing your posture changes the structure, the intricate and sometimes precarious positioning of the anatomy of your shoulder joint.
So what should we do about it?
Assess your posture- both standing up and sitting down at work
Make the appropriate adjustments: make changes to your workstation and to your driver’s seat so you are able to sit with good posture
Re-assess your posture throughout the day. As you get focused on the task in front of you, you forget and sink back into poor posture.
Reverse the curve: Go through a series of exercises throughout the day that undo what poor posture and gravity are doing to your body. A quick routine might include:
Cervical retraction – to realign your neck. Your big head is meant to rest on the top of your cervical spine. When that 8 pound ball gets too out in front, cervical muscles, and ligaments work overtime. You can do these every hour at the office, in the car, in front of the tele, or on the bike.
Lumbar extension- prone press ups to passively extend your spine.
Thoracic extension- seated or standing low rows, using a foam roller, or passively stretching over a bolster
Remember doing a handful of exercises whenever we happen to remember fall short of countering 8 + hour workdays spent hanging in extremes of the wrong position- so make it a part of your daily routine. We want to be aero on our bike, not at our desk in the office.
Leah Braden, DPT, CSCS
Director of Physical Therapy
Carolina Sports Clinic