Have you noticed that you aren’t quite as tall as you used to be? Catch your reflection as you pass a mirror and notice that your head is so far forward you are starting to resemble Igor from Young Frankenstein?
Hours of sitting at a computer, in a car, and on the couch puts your body in the same position for most of the day. Even a regular exerciser can see changes in his/her posture when most of the day is spent sitting. Poor posture can lead to back pain, headaches, overall stiffness, and even symptoms that mimic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. For athletes and regular exercises, poor posture can lead to injury, most often the dreaded chronic, overuse injury.
Ready for the good news? It is reversible. Commit yourself to 10 minutes each day, these movements can even be done while watching your nightly dose of TMZ … I mean, the news.
• Drink water throughout the day and move while you are doing it. Before you can affect the soft tissue (fascia, muscle, and ligament) you must rehydrate it. Soft tissue that isn’t moving becomes rigid and dried out. Kind of like the beef jerkey you bought at that gas station on your last road trip. The water you are drinking isn’t immediately absorbed into the tissue, but if you are both regularly moving and regularly drinking water, your bloodstream maintains a consistent hydration level and your moving muscles and fascia will pull that water in like a sponge. HOW: Get up off your butt and guzzle some water every time you answer the phone or open your Facebook tab while at work. Walk, stretch, wiggle, twist…do anything that moves your whole body. TIME: Sixty seconds every half or full hour when you are wasting time anyway.
• Invest in a tennis ball. OK, tennis balls and a foam roller is even better; a weekly massage, tennis balls and a foam roller is the best, but I’ll be realistic. Scoot over to Target and invest $2.50 on 3 tennis balls. Tape two of them together like the photo below and hold onto the third for another Self Myofascial Release (SMR) technique.
Here’s what to do during TV time; and keep that water close at hand. (Oh yeah. Do not engage in this or any exercise program without first consulting your physician or health provider.)
• Sit on the edge of your seat and put the single ball under your foot and apply firm, but tolerable pressure. Slowly, while maintaining pressure, roll the ball from the heel to the big toe. Repeat this process for each toe. This will be uncomfortable so adjust the pressure so you can relax. You will find that progressively you will be able to add more and more pressure. You can repeat this as many times as you like.
• Next, lie on the floor with the two taped balls under your back. The balls should be on the muscles along the spine, one ball on either side of the bony spine. You can start anywhere along the spine you would like. The idea is to spend a few seconds with the balls at each level in your spine from your tail bone to the base of your skull. Again, spend as much or as little time in each spot. The pressure should be firm, but tolerable. Feel free to wiggle around or move your arms while lying there. I like to spend a little extra time with the balls at the base of my skull. This is where the back and neck muslces attach to the skull and this tissue needs a little extra love. If lying on the balls is too intense, put a soft blanket or cushion on the floor under the balls, it will lessen the pressure.
Now that your tissue is massaged like bread is kneeded before it is baked, it is time to reposition the soft tissue. These next two stretches can be seen in the video on the homepage. So, if you are more of a visual person, check that out.
• Kneel on the floor with your toes tucked under your feet. Likely, this is hard to do and your toes are less extended and more like pushing into the floor. That is ok, everyone starts somewhere. Your goal is to get your toes to extend so much that the balls of your feet touch the floor in this position. So, position your body so that you are pushing your toes into extension. This may mean being on your hands and knees at first and working your way towards sitting on your heels. (This should not hurt your knees! If it does, try staying on hands and knees or skip the stretch and use the tennis ball longer.) TIME: Hold for 20 – 60 seconds. Longer holds, around 3 minutes have more marked effects, but I promised 10 minutes or less so…
• Now, come on to your hands and knees and press yourself into a downward dog stretch. Keep your hands firmly on the ground with the fingers spread and push your hips up toward the ceiling while letting your heels drop toward the floor. Just as important, keep your head down, neck and shoulders relaxed. TIME: Again, hold for 20 – 60 seconds .
Alternating back and forth between each of these stretches also increases the magnitude of their effect. This last one feels great and is completely relaxing so I save it for last.
• Take a large blanket, fold it twice and then roll it firmly so that it is long enough to reach from your head to your tail bone. If you have a foam roller, use it. Lie on your roll with your head at one end and your tail bone at the other. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your knees bent at a comfortable angle. Put your arms out in a cross position or like a goal post (shown below). Now, just lay there and focus on relaxing your body. Your arms may not touch the floor, especially if you are in the goal post position. That is okay. Someday, they might. Notice in the photo that the chin is tucked. This helps correct your neck position and relieves tension there. Feel free to wiggle around a little bit and stay here as long as you like. You may not want to get up.
A few more tips. Take a “before” picture of yourself. A simple standing profile picture will do. Then, a week or two later (after actually doing this routine every day), take another picture and compare them. You will see some subtle differences. I guarantee that in 6 months, the differences in your photos will be dramatic and people will start asking you, “Did you lose weight?” or “Wait. Did you grow??” Challenge: Take your before picture with the date and, after engaging in the program daily, take an after photo in 6 months. Send me your results!
When it comes to changing your posture, you have to remember that it didn’t get bad overnight. You will feel benefit right away, but it will take months for anyone to see that improvement. Also remember, more movement, longer stretches, and more hydration is better. It might take you past my promised “10 minutes a day”, but I didn’t think “Improve your posture in 10 minutes a day, more or less with some intermittent tasks throughout your workday” had much of a ring.
One last thing, drink another 8+ ounces of water once you are done. With all that movement and self massage, you probably used all the water that was stored in your body so it is time to replenish.
If you are already struggling with chronic pain or overuse injury and need more individualized help, contact me today.