Posture changes could diminish your chronic pain

Improve your posture, improve your life. Kate Grant, DPT, PT, shares that mantra with almost every patient she sees as a physical therapist at Indiana University Health Rehabilitation Services. “Whether I’m working with high-level athletes, weekend warriors or somewhat sedentary patients, one of the first things I do is get them to focus on having a relatively neutral posture,” says Grant. “Having a strong center is the body’s engine for your speed and propulsion.”

Grant says an organized, protected spine helps the entire body function better—no matter what you’re doing. “The better your neutral posture and the more you engage your core, the faster you can throw, the harder you can push, and the easier you pick up your kids or your groceries,” she says. “It translates so nicely to so many things people need to do in life.”

Injury prevention

Best of all, good posture can protect you from injuries. “You can have surgeries to repair a problem, but if you continue to slouch and don’t make those structural changes, the root cause of the injury can still be there,” Grant says. “It’s like putting a bucket under a leaky roof; sooner or later, you’re going to have to go up on the roof and find out what’s causing the leak.”

Good posture is a habit

Most everyone is guilty of slouching from time to time, but achieving some body awareness helps many patients develop a lifelong habit of better posture—and lead a life that’s less plagued by chronic pain. Grant says good posture varies from one person to the next. Structural problems such as a forward head, rounded shoulders or scoliosis may not be immediately corrected, but awareness can help offset their adverse effects.

Some people benefit from having hands-on training with a physical therapist to learn better body mechanics and reduce the foreign sensations that accompany change. “I’ve had patients who are dedicated to their core strengthening and posture program, and they’ve made decent changes in a month’s timeframe,” she says.

Common strategies to help patients make postural adjustments

  • Foam rollers to stretch the back.
  • Checking the feet, as well as footwear, in a standing position to make sure they point straight ahead—not in or out, as well as appropriate arch support.
  • Teaching patients to tighten the buttock muscles to decrease the curve of the back, gently pull in the belly button and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
  • Asking them to relax the position by 80 percent, so they learn how to convert the effort to a resting posture.
  • Isometric exercises to stabilize the core—even at rest.

Even with training, Grant says good posture is never a one-and-done game. “It’s a lifelong practice,” she says. “I’d like to say that I’m always perfectly stabilized, but, like most everyone, I tend to slouch and I have to remind myself.”

If you have an injury that needs to be evaluated, contact Indiana University Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine for an appointment with one of our orthopedic or sports medicine specialists at 317-944-9400. For more information about physical therapy and rehabilitation, visit our site