Working as a Massage Therapist for 12 years, and seeing over 15 000 clients, has afforded me insights and wisdom into why our bodies hold tension, how this affects our posture, and what prevents us from having balanced, fluid, pain free movements.
There are a multitude of factors that lead to pain and discomfort. One of the biggest and most managed causes is stress. It affects all of us. We deal with it, adapt to it, and try to avoid it! Stress in all its forms finds its way into our lives from countless sources. I start with stress, because of its compounding affect on everything else. All things contributing to postural stain are only made worse by stress.
Our predominate postures greatly affect how we feel, move, and cope with life. The greatest determinate of our posture, is our most habitual postures. This may sound vague, so let me zero in on the three habitual patterns which have the most impact on our postural reality.
Nothing in life is done more than standing, sitting, and sleeping!
How you uniquely do all three of these things will be the greatest determinants of your postural reality. They will be more impactful than the bruises, falls and accidents throughout life, or even the genetic make up you inherited. Nothing will have greater impact than the three things you spend the most time doing. I can think of no time in the day when you’re not in one of these three postures! How do you sit? How do you lay on your bed for hours every night? How do you stand throughout the day?
Many of my massage therapy clients have office jobs that require them to maintain a seated position anywhere from 4-8 hours every day! This may not appear to be significant, but lets look a little closer. Lets take the lesser of the two and do some basic math: 4 hours a day, 20 hours a week, and 80 hours a month, equals over 900 hours a year holding a seated position. Of course, that’s only at work! There is the time spent seated in the car, on the couch, at the kitchen table, or at the coffee shop. Obviously we could double that 900 hours a year and still not account for all the time spent in this posturally challenging position!
The Psoas and Rectus Femoris muscles are our primary hip flexors. They are held in a significantly shortened position while we sit for long periods. The major one is the Psoas, which attaches on the anterolateral aspect of our lumbar spine. It follows downward to attach to our thigh bone, the femur. Holding a seated posture for many hours a day trains this muscle to be a shorter muscle. The problems of low back pain and discomfort begin when we try to stand after long periods of sitting. The Psoas’ attempts to maintain the shortened length cause it to pull the lumbar spine forward toward the femur. The low back tends to tighten or even spasm to prevent this forward pull. Over long periods of time the result is chronic back pain.
As well, having your knees bent at a 90 angle for thousands of hours a year tends to lead to brutally tight hamstrings! These muscles attach not only to the knees, but also to your hips, on the bones you sit on. Finally, lets not forget the effect sitting has on your neck and shoulders.
Massage therapy is often used to address the muscular imbalances developed from having your hands on a mouse or keyboard. Your head progressively leans forward to get a closer look at your monitor throughout the day. Throw in a few variables such as the tendency to lean on one butt cheek more than the other, not using a head set, and always mousing with the same hand, and it becomes clear the very act of sitting creates many of the postural distortions which massage therapy address every day.
The second most habitual posture we have and maintain is our standing posture. We don’t think too much of it but each of us, has a stance that is uniquely our own. When we bring conscious awareness to our body while standing, we can begin to see and feel how certain muscles are contributing to one our most dominantly held postures.