6 Exercises to keep you upright

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on June 14th, 2012)

Last week we discussed how posture is central to proper functioning of our bodies and improper posture can lead to damage over time. So this week we’re going to go over how to stop this.

Exercise is the key to health. It improves so many things from cardiovascular system to our mental health. In this case, we can use get our joints moving again and strengthen the muscles responsible for good posture. As with all strength building exercises expect some muscle soreness within the first week or two which will subside as the muscles get used to activity again.

In the neck, the small muscles of the cervical spine are responsible for maintaining good posture and in poor posture are usually in a shortened and weak position. This exercise will help strengthen them again and realign the cervical spine.

McKenzie Neck Extensions (Look-ups)
Sit up straight with your shoulders pulled back. Tuck your head back as if there was a string pulling on the back point of your head towards the wall behind you. If you are tucking your chin down towards your chest this is incorrect. Your chin should stay at the same level while pulling your head back. This should give you a good double chin. Holding your neck there, slowly turn your face towards the ceiling as far as you can go. Turn your face back towards the wall in front of you then slowly relax your neck and come back to your original position. Repeat this exercise slowly 5 times, once or twice a day.

Relaxed Neck, Bad Posture

Relaxed Neck, Bad Posture

Shoulders Back, Chin Tucked

Shoulders Back, Chin Tucked

Shoulders Back, Look Up

Shoulders Back, Look Up

Shoulders & Upper Back (Thoracic Spine)
You cannot exercise the shoulders without working the upper back (thoracic spine) because they are interconnected by so many muscles. Slouched shoulders and back is one of the most common postural positions of the shoulders and thoracic spine. In this position the muscles at the top of the shoulder are tight and spasmed, at the front of the shoulder are shortened and tight, and at the back and below are stretched and weak.

This next exercise does not strengthen muscles or realign anything but it gets everything loose and ready to work.
While keeping your arms at your sides, simply roll your shoulders in circles making sure to bring them back as far as you can. Initially this will feel stiff and possibly a little sore but these feelings will pass the more you do it and the looser the muscles become.

These next two exercises will strengthen the muscles below and between the shoulder blades.
Pocket Push
Sit up straight and look straight forward. Pull your shoulder blades back and down as if trying to put them into the back pockets of your pants. Hold this position for three slow, deep breaths. Relax your shoulders for another three deep breaths then repeat this twice more. Repeat this exercise three or four times daily.

"Protracted" (Slouched) Shoulders

“Protracted” (Slouched) Shoulders

"Retracted" (Pulled-Back) Shoulders

“Retracted” (Pulled-Back) Shoulders

Superman Lift
Lie on your stomach on a flat surface where your shoulders are free to move, like a bench or diagonally on a bed with the corner at your chest. Hold your neck straight and your arms to either side of our head. Point your thumbs towards the ceiling and pull your shoulder blades down towards your back pockets. In this position pull your thumbs towards the ceiling as far as you can then lower them again. Repeat this four times. Perform this exercise once a day.

Low Back (Lumbar Spine)
Poor posture in the low back is usually associated with other bad postures of the pelvis or thoracic spine. This can cause either an increase or decrease in the curve in the lumbar spine. Either way the muscles of the lumbar spine like to lock down most movement of the joints to stabilize the spine when in poor posture. Therefore mobility is the key here to prime the low back for a health posture. As I said last week, to obtain healthy lumbar posture fix the posture of the areas around it.

On hands and knees find a “neutral position” where your hands are directly under your shoulders, your knees directly under your hips, and your rib cage is not sagging from your shoulders. Pull your belly button towards the floor and your head up towards the ceiling, making a U with your back. Slowly reverse this position by pulling your spine towards the ceiling and your head towards the floor creating an arch with your back. Repeat this up and down four more times. Do this exercise once daily. Remember to make the transitions slowly as the small ligaments of your spine can become pinched with very fast movements.

It is difficult to exercise specific muscles of the legs to affect specific postural changes. Therefore the approach is to increase muscle strength generally and make sure the exercises are performed in proper posture. The exercise I’m going to explain to you will also increase the strength of your “Core” muscles which include the diaphragm, the Transversus Abdominus and Obliqus Abdominus or “the obliques” (muscles that around your abdomen), and the Pelvic Floor (a group of small muscles that surround the genitals and anus) commonly called “The Kegels”. Strengthening your core muscles will help with achieving and maintaining a healthy lumbar spine posture. We will discuss the core muscles more at a later date.

Stand approximately a foot and a half away from a wall with your back towards it. Have your feet shoulder width apart, pointed directly forward and directly under your hips. This should place your ankles, knees, and hips in line with each other. Let your bum push backwards and your knees bend while you slowly squat down. Keep your head up and you heels on the floor the entire time. Make sure that your knees stay in line with your hips and ankles and do not drift together or apart. The goal is to bring your hips down to be level with your knees. Some people may not be able to do this initially, so only go as low as you can. It may be necessary to raise your arms in front of you to balance. After reaching your lowest, rise back up to a fully standing position. Repeat this 5 times. Repeat this exercise once daily. This exercise requires a lot of balance and so only do this if you feel comfortable and safe.

Bum Out, Head Up

Bum Out, Head Up

Exercise is a great means to an end but sometimes it is not enough on its own. Chiropractic care helps to mobilize joints that are not moving properly and decreases muscle spasm and pain. Your chiropractor can also coach you through these and other exercises to improve posture and health in general.

If you have any questions about these exercises or posture please leave a comment below or e-mail me at drroffey@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben


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