One of the biggest issues with which I deal in my work with older adult clients is posture. While some clients stand up straight, many others have a slouched posture and a neck and head that often protrude forward. You have certainly seen this yourself–perhaps when you look in the mirror.
Several years ago, I began to experience numbness and tingling in three of my fingers on my left hand. I went to see my physician who referred me to a physical therapist. Much to my surprise the issue was not my fingers but rather my cervical spine; three fingers was a tell-tale sign that it was caused by an impingement. The issue was that my posture had put things out of place and it was time for me to correct that. I was given a few exercises to do each day and within a few weeks the symptoms disappeared; I still continue to do some of the exercises on a regular basis to keep myself and my posture in tip-top form.
The causes of poor posture are many. Some are structural such as scoliosis or joint degeneration. Otherwise, there is a kind of chicken/egg scenario; bad habits such as slouching and a sedentary lifestyle can cause muscle fatigue that will lead to poor posture. In other words, slouching leads to more slouching. Another cause is the tightening of chest muscles over time and the weakening of upper back muscles–and other core muscles; the chest muscles pull the shoulders forward and the back muscles are not strong enough to keep them in place. Of course, weak core muscles also play a major role in compromised posture.
So, what if we are living with poor posture> Are we stuck for life? In some cases, the damage may not be 100% correctable, but improvements can be made almost at any age. There are three exercises that I do and that I have my clients do as well; they make a real difference.
- Chin Tucks. I have blogged about this exercise in the past. To do a chin tuck stand or sit up straight, pulling your head back. The best way to think about this is it is as if someone is coming in to give you a kiss and you want to avoid it; you simply draw your head back and away. Do not put your chin on your chest or tilt your head back. This can be held for 30 seconds or 12-15 reps if you prefer. I do this several times a day to combat the effects of looking at my phone, peering over my prayerbook, and simply being lazy.
- Scapular Retractions. There are a number of ways to do these, but I suggest standing straight, relaxing the shoulders (no shrugging), bending the elbows at your side, and then slowly bringing the elbows together behind your back; do not worry if they do not touch! This can be done as a 30-second hold or 12-15 reps. I do scapular retractions several times a day as well. This helps to stretch out the chest muscles that pull the shoulders forward while putting the shoulder blades back in their proper position.
- Wall Hand Sliders. Stand as close as you can to a wall without picture, moulding, etc.; I do it with my nose and tummy literally touching the wall. Do make sure that you are not so close that you will lose balance and fall backwards. Place the palms of both hands on the wall at shoulder height, then slide the hands up the wall as high as possible; bring them back down to shoulder height and repeat 12 times for 2 sets. This is another great chest stretch that also helps with raising the arms overhead, which becomes difficult for many as we age.
If you are experiencing very poor posture associated with pain, make sure to talk with your physician as there could be structural or other issues that should be addressed in addition to, or instead of, these exercises. Otherwise, incorporate these exercises into your daily routine and you may just find that you are standing a little taller, a little straighter, feeling less achy, and looking better in the mirror. It takes some adjustment, but just remember what your mother used to say: “stand up straight!”