As a reflexologist and massage therapist, I see numerous clients with tension in the shoulders, lower back, or both. Often this can cause pain and discomfort, and sitting at a desk all day, driving, or lifting incorrectly can add to this tension. Massage can do wonders to release the tension and improve the posture, but we also need to think more about our posture and how we hold ourselves during our daily activities.
What is poor posture?
We can sit a lot in our daily lives, and often we are slouched forward … studying, working, driving, sitting to eat, watch TV, or read. This has a huge impact on our bodies, creating various muscle imbalances.
Poor posture occurs when our spines have been under pressure from sitting in unnatural positions for prolonged periods of time, placing increased stress on the joints, ligaments and tendons.
The effect of this is often lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, muscle fatigue, headaches, limited mobility, and breathing difficulties. When you hunch forward, your body is not aligned properly, and your chest is not open and free. Not only does poor posture look bad, but you are forcing some muscles to work incredibly hard all day, whilst others are getting weaker.
Improving posture with Massage
Massage can help to relax and loosen the muscles that are sore through bad posture, allowing your body to realign itself in its natural and pain free posture.
The most common types of massage used to treat posture are Deep tissue massage, Sports massage and Swedish massage.
Deep tissue massage is a form of soft tissue release to alleviate the build up of tension and stress in the body’s tissues after being subject to the strain and pressure of sitting for long periods. The method includes stretching out the muscle fibres and increasing blood circulation to the muscles in order to reduce pain and increase range of movement. The relaxation of the muscles then allows the posture to be corrected.
Sports massage is focused on areas containing soft tissue, and much like deep tissue massage, pressure is applied depending on personal preference. Sports massage stimulates blood flow to increase muscle temperature which improves flexibility and elasticity of the muscle. This improvement leads to a decrease in pain, increases the range of movement, and enables the posture to return to normal.
Swedish massage helps to relax a person, both physically and mentally. This can be a gentle or firm pressure and aims to relieve stress and tension within both the muscles and the joints. Relieving stress and tension, especially around the spinal area will help to reduce stiffness and pain, increase relaxation and improve posture.
These types of massage have the benefit of:
· Reducing muscle and joint pain
· Improving posture
· Reduce stress
· Reduce headaches
· Improve breathing function
· Increase mobility
· Improve blood circulation
Improving your posture at home
As well as using massage to improve your muscle health, relieve tension, and soothe those aches and pains, there are also some things you can do to maintain good posture as you go through your day. Here are my top tips.
#1 – Stretch it out
Stretch regularly throughout the day. Stretch your arms across your chest, over your head, behind your back. Do arm circles in both directions. This will help to release the neck and shoulder tension.
Lower back pain is usually caused by a tightness in the hips, gluts and hamstrings. Make sure you regularly stretch these muscles to release tension on the lower back. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, and ensure your legs are not crossed.
#2 – Sitting posture
If you sit at a desk all day, your posture is at risk from slouching.
If you work long hours at a desk, and have the option, choose a chair that’s ergonomically designed to support your height and weight. If this is not an option, try using a pillow for lumbar support.
Keep both feet on the ground, or use a foot rest if your legs don’t reach the ground!
Keep your shoulders straight, your head upright, and your neck, back and heels all aligned. Align your spine with the back of the chair, and adjust your screen a little more upward to force you to sit straight and stop slouching.
Your body was not designed to sit all day long, so you need to stand up and stretch, walk round a little, or just stand for a few minutes.
#3 – Standing posture
Find your centre. Proper standing posture is about alignment and balance. Place your feet shoulder width apart, and keep the weight on the balls of your feet. Pull your head back and up, as if you are a puppet and your head is being pulled toward the ceiling. Not only will you correct your posture, but you’ll feel taller and more confident too.
#4 – Walking posture
Try to walk with your head held high, shoulders back and relaxed. Imagine you are walking with a book balanced on your head.
#5 – Sleeping posture
Ok, so you might not be able to think about posture while you are asleep, but there are a few things you can do to have an effect on your posture whilst you are awake.
Having a firm mattress will help with maintaining proper back support.
Sleeping on your back usually puts less pressure on the lower back than sleeping on your stomach.
If you tend to sleep on your side, place a small pillow between your knees to keep your spine aligned.
#6 – Driving posture
Your car is designed for people sitting correctly, plus this is more practical for safety concerns. The way you sit in the car can have an impact on safety if you have a collision. Keep your back against the seat and headrest. Adjust your seat so you are the correct distance from the steering wheel. If you’re leaning forward, you are too far away, if you are hunched up with your chin on the steering wheel, you are too close.
"Posture is the key to life" - Mark Twain