Nov 28

Importance of Correct Posture for Well-being and Sport Performance

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More and more children and youth nowadays suffer from incorrect posture, which has led to increased health issues such as the ‘rounded shoulder – rounded back’, the sway back syndrome, and lower back pain.

Let’s compare the human body to a car! When the vehicle’s alignment is off, tires and other components are affected. When tires are not properly balanced, riding quality diminishes and longevity decreases. Compare this to the human body! Posture represents the body’s alignment – if not properly arranged various problems can occur: restricted range of motion, pain, organ dysfunction, joint, tendon, ligament and muscle stress, etc. Although we don’t expect individuals to be positioned perfectly, we want to strive to achieve the optimal posture.

Schloder (2013) defines posture several ways,

…‘Ideal or correct body posture’ means the pull of gravity is evenly distributed over the base of support with maximum biomechanical and physiological efficiency and minimum stress and/or strain on the body…

Others define posture as follows:

…Posture is based on the position of the spine and all the joints in the musculoskeletal system, i.e., the relative arrangement of body parts…

…Refers to the physical body carriage: The way somebody holds his/her body…

…[It] Refers to the position of the body in any environment or mode such as standing, sitting, lying down, leaning forward, backward, or sideways, walking, running, or moving…

…Poor posture is the faulty relationship of various body parts, which increases tension or pulls on supporting body structures, resulting in less efficient body balance over the base of support…

In 1947, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons defined posture as,

…The relative arrangement of the parts of the body. Good posture is the state of muscular and skeletal balance, which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity irrespective of the attitude (erect, lying, squatting, stooping) in which these structures are working or resting…

…Poor posture: a faulty relationship of the various parts of the body which produce increased strain on the supporting structures and in which there is less efficient balance of the body over its base of support (cited in Whitehead, July 17, 2014; Peterson-Kendall, Kendall-McCreary, Geise-Provance, McIntyre-Rodgers, & Romani, 2005, p. 51).

The common phrase, “Stand or sit up straight!” reminds us to correct our ‘slouching or slumping’ forward posture. Mark Josefsberg-Alexander (2005), sport physiotherapist to the Australian Olympic and Commonwealth Games believes that ‘poor upper back posture creates reactions throughout the body.’

Peterson-Kendall (1993) also states:

…Ideal skeletal alignment involves a minimal amount of stress and strain and is conducive to maximal efficiency of the body. Such a position implies a balanced distribution of weight, and a stable position of each joint (p. 71).

According to societal beliefs, “poor posture reflect one’s personal disposition to the outside world”, and is often interpreted as having a negative “bodily attitude.” More importantly though, postural flaws affect personal health, may limit physical activity, and definitely impact sport performance. According to research, incorrect or ‘poor’ posture puts stress on the spine, which can induce neck, shoulder, back, hip and pelvis, knee, ankle, and also foot problems. If this is prolonged and becomes chronic, the spinal discs, especially in the mid and lower back, may be structurally affected, leading to disc degeneration and bulges. If the spine is held in hyper-kyphosis shoulders hunch forward, pulling the shoulder blades wider apart and away from the spine. It interferes with efficient shoulder function and is linked to shoulder impingement pain. This is important to understand because many sports skills use predominantly forward and very repetitive movements in this position. Subsequently, athletes often experience restriction of thoracic mobility and sustain shoulder injuries. Acute and sub-acute shoulder syndromes have become common musculoskeletal disorders in many sports.

A loss of the natural hollowing in the low back and backward pelvic tilt can also inhibit movement patterns of the legs, and result in developing various lower limb conditions. Furthermore, reduced rib and spinal joint mobility can affect normal breathing, reduce tidal volume and Vo2 max uptake as the ribcage and spine stiffens. Obviously, all these factors affect sport performance. Alex McKechnie, well-known athletic performance director of the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA Basketball), has treated several professional star athletes for chronic injuries attributed to poor posture. He believes that,

…Muscles do not work in isolation; they work collectively to produce strength, power, and coordination because functional strength is the key. Leg muscles (quads, hamstring, and gluteus muscles, i.e., all muscles tied to the thigh) have pelvic control and any lacking of such affects the knees as well (cited in Ogden, 2010, The Telegraph).

As mentioned, continuous or repetitive forward motion and/or forward position, (sport activities, job requirements, studying, prolonged daily computer use, lengthy TV watching, and playing video games), frequently lead to an imbalance in the strength and flexibility of the postural muscles, which reinforces persistent postural dysfunction. As stated earlier, rapid growth spurts during childhood and/or early adolescence can lead to ‘bad’ postural habits in younger sport participants if not given early medical attention. On the other hand, overtraining and fatigue may cause postural dysfunction in elite and professional athletes when the body (very smart!) actually tries to compensate for deficiencies caused by injuries. As pointed out already, psychological and emotional stress, low self-esteem, depression, lack of sleep, physical and mental burn out can also affect body carriage. Postural issues have to be addressed immediately, medically if necessary, in order to restore proper balance of strength and flexibility of the postural muscles and to facilitate optimal physical performance.

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