Q: Do you have nagging pain in your low back?
Q: Do you carry chronic tension in your shoulders?
A: If you have chronic discomfort in an area with no known injury, you may wonder why that is. The most likely answer is postural dysfunction (i.e., less than healthy posture, which malaligns the spine and causes muscles and joint forces to be something less healthy than intended). This unhealthy support of the spine and the resulting abnormal movements and joint forces cause muscle imbalances that can’t support the spine and joints optimally, resulting in inflammation and pain that ultimately change the way we sit, lay, stand, move and most importantly – FEEL!
There are several very common postural stress patterns that physical therapists see in the clinic:
- posterior neck pain and stiffness;
- shoulder pain with restricted range of motion;
- a painful knot (called a trigger point) near the shoulder blade;
- low back ache; and
- hip tightness
“You can’t put a Band-Aid on bad posture!”
People typically describe these areas as tight and restricted, with nagging pain. These patterns are quite frustrating, because they are stubborn and resistant to treatment such as application of heat, cold, electric stimulation, ultrasound, massage, traction and others treatments that provide temporary relief only. This is because you can’t put a Band-Aid on bad posture. You must correct the postural issue(s) adequately to get the best and longest-lasting relief of your symptoms.
For example, when we have pain in our shoulders, we typically massage our shoulders. When we have pain in our backs, we massage, twist and stretch out our backs. Though massage and proper flexibility are important and offer some relief as we’re doing it, it often doesn’t fix the problem for good.
More often than not, the most common posture-related pain patterns are a result of tight flexor muscles (generally, those on the front of the body) and/or stretched and weak extensor muscles (those on the back of the body).
Looking at the figure above, we can see that the front of the body is collapsed and contracted, while the back is arched and stretched (I often refer to this as “lazy posture” as it does not require much work to hold this position). We are essentially “hanging on our joints” instead of using the muscles correctly that support our joints. Thus, we need to retrain your posture to “stack” the body the way it was meant to be stacked as the first step of correction (think of a tall house being built on it’s foundation. If the foundation isn’t true, the house won’t be as well supported as it should and won’t stand up to stresses as well as it could, either). This will allow us to focus on healthy, functional movement. In doing so, you will have marked improvement in your symptoms of chronic, nagging pain with difficulty moving the ways you want and need to move.
Q: How can Physical Therapy help me correct my bad posture?
A: Physical therapy is a great choice if you’re having chronic, nagging pain caused by bad posture. During an initial appointment, a good PT will obtain an understanding of the pain you are experiencing and evaluate your body’s posture and alignment to understand the source(s) of the pain. You will be educated well about the issues causing you trouble so that you can understand the problem(s) adequately. After all, a patient who understands their circumstances will always have the best chance of correcting them, and therefore will always have the best outcomes!
Based on the PT’s analysis, you’ll next be guided through a series of exercises designed specifically for your postural dysfunction. The exercises are typically simple, gentle, and easy to do and focus on strength and flexibility. Patients are expected to complete their exercises at home for best results, with further physical therapy guiding the way and tweaking or adding exercises in the most efficient manner so that you are not a lifelong patient. In other words, a good PT helps you get to the root of the problem(s) and shows you how to fix them as quickly and as permanently as possible.
Most clients report seeing and feeling positive results after the first treatment session. Typically, anywhere from four to twelve sessions are necessary for clients to maximize the postural changes, and you should expect to see your PT two to three times per week for a two to four weeks.
Q: My job requires me to sit a lot. How can I fix my posture?
A: PTs frequently see tight muscles in the mid-back from too much sitting. We sit at work, we sit in the car, and then we sit at home (many of us are far too sedentary). So when a client comes in with knee pain, they may not expect their PT to focus on their posture. However, your PT will explain that tightness and decreased motion in your mid-back contributes to a lack of motion in your pelvis. The pelvis has muscles connected to the knee, and is thus contributing to the knee pain via restriction of normal mobility, abnormal joint forces in the knee, the inflammation that causes, and the pain that results. The client is often amazed how their knee pain is relieved after doing the individually designed exercises that are focused on their upper body’s posture, not solely on the area that is painful.
If you have chronic, nagging pain, physical therapy is the best choice for helping you “get straight” in short order and for the long haul. The experts at Summerville Physical Therapy & Balance are well trained in identifying and fixing your posture-related pain and dysfunction and can get you back to feeling better quickly so you can enjoy greater Quality of Life!
Call Summerville Physical Therapy and Balance Rehabilitation for Adults and schedule your consultation today 843-209-6375. We are located at 679 Orangeburg Road, Suite D, Summerville, SC 29483.
(adapted from: “Poor posture = loss of function = pain.” Online (2014). Available at: http://redcloverclinic.com/2014/05/poor-posture-loss-of-function-pain/)