Exercises to Improve Posture and Relieve Back and Neck Pain
In an "a-ha" moment today, I realized that I need to write about posture tips that make my clients go "a-ha," too!
Below, you will find my personalized tips for better posture, including exercises to help you achieve your goals.
I'm passionate about building proper posture. Holding yourself correctly prevents myriad chronic pain issues, including: low back, midback, and neck pain; shoulder impingement; and many more.
Bottom Line: Having poor posture causes repetitive injury to the body. Use the following tips and exercises to improve posture.
# 1. Use Your Core, Not Your Back
Stand up tall from your core. Center your weight between the balls of your feet and heels, NOT by arching your lower back more.
I see a lot of patients that let their weight drift into their toes and then hang on their spine, fully relaxing their core. This crams the spine and causes pain.
Posture Exercise Tip: Place your hands on your hips, pushing down on the back of your pelvis. Holding your pelvis in place, come up taller from the sides of your body. This should activate your entire abdominal wall and relieve the tension from your lower back.
If you arch your lower back more to come up tall, your back will begin to feel sore and strained.
This is not a sustainable posture!
Now, make sure your weight is balanced. Stand up and shift your weight into your toes. Feel how you hang on your back. Then, shift your weight all the way back to your heels. Feel how that makes you clench your glutes to not fall over (glute clenchers have weak glutes).
You want to avoid this extreme as well. Do not tuck your butt under by clenching your glutes. Both sticking your butt out and tucking it under will have consequences for your spine.
Try and balance your weight between your toes and your heels, unclench your glutes and support a little from your lower abs. This creates a strong foundation.
#2. Walk Like a Royal
Think about pulling the crown of your head up toward the ceiling with your chin tucked slightly (like you are balancing a book on it). This will help activate your core. Now, I'm not talking military posture, just a slight lifting or stretching of the spine, you are not cranking on your lower back to come taller.
To me, it gives a feeling of lightness or floating. Your head is perfectly balanced on your spine.
If you are having trouble getting your head balanced, you may need some soft tissue work. Lengthening your chest, neck and hip flexors can be key to getting your head back in line with your body. Try this chest stretch to help get your shoulders back in line with your body. Be careful over-stretching your hip flexors; they attach to your lumbar spine!
Posture Exercise Tip: If your neck feels tight or weak, try the chin tucks with head lifts to help give your deep cervical flexors strength to hold your head in place.
#3. Never Pull Your Shoulders Back and Down
Open your chest by coming taller. Relax your neck and shoulders.
Do NOT pull your shoulders back and down.
This overuses your rotator cuff and will contribute to shoulder pain! Plus, pulling your shoulders back and down will make your posture look forced or contrived. Great posture comes from the core, not from yanking on your poor little shoulder muscles.
Most clients I see that focus on pulling their shoulders back and down develop a muscle knot in the body of a rotator cuff muscle under their armpit called the Teres Major. This knot prevents the scapula from rotating properly which leads to shoulder issues and further tightness. To release this knot, simply lie on your side on a foam roller or place a tennis ball under your armpit on the side of your body and lean against the wall. You will know you are in the right spot when you feel the knot.
The other way that pulling your shoulders back and down goes terribly wrong is the pec minor gets involved. The pec minor pulls down on the scapula. So if your lower traps are weak, your pec minor will do the downward pull, causing you to have a tight chest and hunched forward shoulders instead of great posture.
Lastly, stand with your feet straight.