Shoulders back. Sit up straight. Don’t slouch. I’m sure everyone has heard these phrases many times throughout their lives. Maintaining good posture is something we can all agree is very important in preventing pain and discomfort in our bodies, but how do we attain good posture? Although it is good practice to correct our posture when we know we are slouching, it is impossible to be aware of our posture 24/7. To maintain good posture it is important to first understand why we may have poor posture. I’ll start by explaining what tonic and phasic muscles are.
Only 15% of Canadians meet the minimum daily requirement of exercise to maintain good health. Adults spend an average of 9.5 hours a day in sedentary activities, that’s 69% of our waking hours.1 This lack of physical activity results in weak muscles throughout our bodies. Those weak muscles will shorten or lengthen depending on whether they are phasic or tonic. You may be thinking to yourself, “I walk every day yet I still suffer from poor posture.” Although you may fall into that 15% of us who do exercise regularly, you still may not be isolating the exact muscles that need strengthening in order to keep your body in a proper alignment. In addition to weak muscles there is another element I haven’t mentioned yet and that is fascia.
Fascia is a sticky, fibrous connective tissue made of collagen that wraps our muscles, groups of muscles that are close together, blood vessels, nerves, and internal organs. It is stretchy and runs continuously throughout our body. If you have ever taken the skin off a raw chicken breast or cut a piece of beef you have encountered fascia. It is thin and white and exists between the skin and the chicken, or between two sections of a piece of beef. It is exactly the same inside our own bodies. It is like the glue that holds all our anatomy together.
There are a few problems with fascia though. One is that it will shorten and become “stuck” in areas where muscles are weak and short. This can exacerbate existing postural changes causing treatment for postural dysfunction to extend beyond an isolated stretching and strengthening routine. Fascia is also very sensitive to inflammation. When we injure ourselves and inflammation occurs, the fascia becomes very sticky and adheres to the tissue around it. This can cause pain and discomfort that can extend way beyond the area of inflammation due to the continuous nature of fascia.
When fascia affects ones posture we refer to it as a myofascial holding pattern. Basically it is a combination of shortened fascia and the muscle imbalance that occurs between tonic and phasic muscles. As I said before, being aware of our posture and correcting it when we can is important, but to truly improve our posture so that we don’t need to be consciously aware of it takes a skilled therapist and dedication on our part. A physiotherapist, chiropractor, massage therapist or even a personal trainer can help us isolate the muscles that are causing our postural imbalances. Massage Therapy, Myofascial Release Therapy, Active Release Technique (ART), and Graston Technique are all wonderful techniques to eliminate myofascial holding patterns and release shortened muscles.
The most important element in correcting postural imbalance is dedication. Stretching and strengthening routines must be done daily and tissue therapy must be performed close together and on a regular basis in the beginning. Once our body is stabilized, we may only need to check in on specific stretches and strengthening exercises once in a while to make sure we continue to be balanced and free of restrictions.
The Canadian Press, Jan 19, 2011, onine article, “Only 15% Of Canadians Meet Minimum Recommended Exercise Standard: StatsCan” www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/nutrition/2011/01/19/only_15_of_canadian s_meet_minimum_exercise_standard_statscan.html
by Mel Ball, RMT