This article will discuss poor posture of the upper back and neck and provide some suggestions for exercises to correct the problem. Poor posture in the upper quadrant can lead to various problems and symptoms such as pain in the neck, shoulder and upper back muscles, joint dysfunction, arthritis, headaches, and fatigue. Poor posture can result in forward round shoulders, stooped upper back and excessive head forward positioning. Typically poor posture is a result of long term incorrect positioning habits, often in office workers and other computer desk activity, and sedentary lifestyles.
Long term round shoulders in poor posture can lead to weak postural muscles that control the scapula, upper shoulder and thoracic areas. It also often results in shortened or tight pectoral muscles. The head forward position leads to shortened muscles in the neck muscles at the base of the skull. This head position also creates heavier demand on those muscles to support the weight of the head.
Following are four simple exercises to help correct poor posture. The idea is to strengthen the weak muscles and lengthen the short muscles. Improving poor posture can take time and dedication. It takes time to undo the years of bad habits that create the problem and it cannot be fixed overnight. Behavior changes, posture cue reminders and improved ergonomics (for computer users) also need to be implemented. These items are fairly extensive to discuss in a short article and may be included in a future post.
The first step is to stretch the short muscles so the body can begin to attain the proper flexibility to hold a correct posture. The pectoral stretch is the first step. It can be done in a corner of a room. Place hands on the walls at shoulder height, elbows back and gently step forward to feel a gentle stretch across the front of chest. Hold for about 20 seconds. Do four these and repeat several times a day.
The second exercise is the chin tuck to address the tight muscles at the back of the neck. Sit upright and gently move the chin backwards (see picture). It will feel like you are trying to make a “double chin” and you will feel it at the base of the skull. Again hold 20 seconds, repeating four times and do several times per day. This exercise is easy to do almost anywhere, even in the car, pushing against the head rest.
After a week or two, begin the next two exercises which are for strength (continue with the above two stretch exercises). The idea is that one the short muscle issue is addressed, now the endurance and posture control muscles can now be improved to help return poor posture to a correct or better one.
Rows – Hold arms out to side, elbows bent and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Perform 3 sets of 20 every day. After a week or two of doing this exercise, add a resistance band to gain additional strength. It can also be done using weights and laying face down on a bench.
Shoulder rolls - Hold a light weight (about 1 pound) in each hand and keeping the elbows straight, lift shoulders up and roll backward and lower. Perform 3 sets of 20 every day.
The above four exercise are just suggestions. A physical therapist, chiropractor or personal trainer with access to a software system for exercises can provide more options as well. With dedication and consistency of exercise, along with cueing, ergonomic improvements, habit changes, poor posture and its related issues and problems can be addressed in a proactive manner.