Did you ever want to increase your performance on the sport field without having to spend hours at the gym or track? Or have you been working furiously on increasing your strength and balance without seeing any corresponding improvement in function? One of the reasons for this could be as simple as posture!
A good neutral posture is organised in such a way that all our bones are nicely set up to counterbalance each other, requiring minimal muscle activation to maintain, and also ensuring your weight is precisely balanced over your feet. Changes to this postural system lead to increased activation of those muscles trying to hold you up, and therefore taking energy away from the muscles you want to increase your performance, as well as shifting your weight away from its most balanced position (centre of gravity). This in turn leads to compensatory movements of the body to right itself.
When the body uses energy to maintain extra use of postural muscles and/or correct compensatory movements due to poor control, this energy is not used by those muscles that help improve your speed, strength or agility and therefore result in a loss in performance. A good example of this is a runner who cannot control their hip position. As they land their hip will collapse and shift slightly to the side. To compensate for this they will sway their trunk to the same side in order to stay balanced. This compensatory movement uses energy that would otherwise be involved in making them run faster or longer. Correcting this could be something as simple as ‘standing tall while running’, or as complex as trying to control or strengthen specific muscle groups in order to hold your body weight.
Not only can good posture during sport improve your performance, it can also decrease your risk of injury. Poor posture during activity, particularly repetitive activity, can overload muscles that are used excessively to hold you in this poor position which can lead to strains and tears in the short term. In the long term, muscle overload from one direction, and muscle inactivity from another will lead to shearing forces in your joints which can create more significant joint or ligament damage which is much harder to fix. An example of this could be a fast bowler playing cricket who severely arches their back and twists during bowling. Over time this will overload the vertebra in the lower back by repeatedly compacting the rear portion of it and is one of the major causes or stress fractures in cricketers. By changing their posture when they bowl you can significantly decrease the risk of an injury occurring as well as improving their speed and accuracy!
Objective (measureable) data makes it easier and more reliable to detect any abnormalities with posture and movement patterns, which can enable people to change their technique in order to prevent injury and/or maximize performance. This is often done with high speed video cameras that can be used to examine your running technique frame by frame. However now many elite sporting bodies are beginning to use the latest in computerized feedback systems where electrodes are placed along the spine and data is recorded for a certain period of time (i.e. whilst participating in sport) to give highly accurate measurements of peoples postural control. This allows people to gain a much clearer idea about what they need to change, as well as providing an excellent feedback system to measure if these changes have been successful or not.
I’m sure at some point in your life you have been told to sit up straight or stop slouching, but why is it really important in the first place, and how straight should I sit, or stand, or walk for that matter? As well as this, we all know someone who seems to slouch too much, or has a big arch in their back when they walk but do not complain of any pain. Why is it that posture should be important for me but not them?
Sitting up straight is probably not an accurate term as our spine is not designed straight. It is made up of three separate curves, one each for our lower back, upper back and neck which if you look at it from side on, forms a rough ‘S’ shape. If these curves are maintained in a neutral position, the weight is distributed evenly though the various structures of the spine (bones, joints, discs and ligaments). If this neutral balance is upset, weight distribution will become uneven, and so one area will have to transmit more load, and therefore undergo more stress than another.
When this weight distribution is uneven the weight of part of your spine does not balance comfortably on the rest of it in response to gravity. To hold this area in place you need to increase activity of the surrounding musculature which can result in fatigue and tightness of these muscles. A good example of this would be getting tight shoulder muscles when your head has been poked forward to look at a computer too long.
So does this mean if I sit up straight, all my pain will go away? In some cases yes! However remember that pain will often depend on many factors, of which posture is only one, and therefore other issues may need to be addressed to resolve your symptoms. Remember too that there is no perfect posture for everyone. It will depend on the type of injury you have, age, sex, and activities that aggravate your symptoms.
An interesting article about why play is so important! Our Kids Bounce Back programme is a play-based programme working on improving fine and gross motor in school children. The play based atmosphere allows for each child to have fun whilst they are learning new skills.