The Importance of Posture for Muscle & Joint Pain
Many people suffering from muscle and joint pain find little long-term relief in mainstream pain management. Pharmaceuticals work to block the pain signal or decrease inflammation, which is wonderful short-term, but in order to address long-term pain we need a long-term solution. Often, a simple yet effective strategy is to correct your posture.
Each part of the body is designed to move within a certain posture. This allows your body to perform all functions with minimal strain or risk of injury. However, when you have pain, your body automatically adjusts to compensate for this to avoid use of the affected area. If this lasts long enough, your body can adapt, maintaining this posture even after the pain has gone.
Correct posture not only ensures your body is moving the way nature intended it to, but it strengthens your core and prevents degenerative change to your joints (which can come with its own set of problems). Be mindful that correcting your posture will take time, patience, and effort. Set yourself reminders on your phone or leave notes lying around so that you stop and check in with your posture at regular intervals throughout the day, and soon it will become habit.
Top Posture Tips:
To often we don't pay any attention to how we are actually standing - we are so focused on what we have to do, or what is going on around us. Take a second to mentally scan your body to feel how you are standing. Adjust your posture as needed:
- Distribute your weight evenly between both feet
- Soften your knees rather than jamming them back into a locked position
- Tilt your hips slightly underneath yourself to avoid creating an arch in your lower back
- Roll your shoulders back and down
- Lift your chest slightly to stand up tall
- Imagine you have a string attached to the top of your head, pulling your whole posture upwards, creating a lovely straight spine
This may feel strange and silly at first, but your body will adjust and it will soon feel more normal.
Start in correct standing posture, then begin to walk. Your main focus here is to engage your core, keep your hips tilted underneath you, and imagine that string is pulling your head up from the very top. Walking with correct posture is one of the best ways to re-train your body to move correctly.
When You Are At Your Desk...
This is a place where many of us slouch without realizing it! Think about how your desk is set up:
- Hips should be bent to 90 degrees or more with your feet flat on the floor
- Computer monitor should be at eye level so you can sit with your head up tall, and your chin tilting neither up nor down
- Keyboard should be at a height where your shoulders are relaxed, and your forearms rest comfortably on the desk at a 90 degree or greater angle from your elbow
Sitting for long periods of time is also detrimental, so set an alarm for every hour to remind you to stand up and move around if possible (every 20-30mins is the ideal).
When You Sleep...
For back sleepers:
- Begin on your back without a pillow to align your neck properly
- Lie with your spine is straight, shoulders drawn down and relaxed, and your lower back flattened against the mattress rather than arched
- If you roll over in the night, grab your pillow to support the gap between your shoulder and jaw
For side sleepers:
- Lie with your spine straight rather than curved over
- Make sure your pillow is supporting that gap between your shoulder and jaw, so your neck isn’t straining
- Keep your head level (not tilted too high or low), and try to avoid tucking your head forward as you curl up in bed
- Stack your hips on top of each other, using a flat pillow between your knees for support if necessary so you don’t roll forward too far
Whilst you don’t really have much control over what you do in your sleep, training yourself to fall asleep with good posture is much more beneficial in the long run.
Move it or lose it!
Moving your joints through their full range of motion and using as many of your muscle groups as possible with correct posture is key to staying fit and healthy. Yoga, tai chi, Pilates, swimming, and dancing are some of the best ways to do this. Focusing on the quality of your movement (your posture) and not the number of repetitions is the most important factor here; you don’t want to be training your muscles to move in the wrong way, especially as we age.
Posture and correct movement are key in the treatment and long-term management of muscle and joint pain. Putting in the time and effort now to work on moving your body in the correct way will dramatically improve your quality of life and give you the healing tools you need to manage pain when it arises.