Postural Analysis/Causes of postural imbalance
Contributors to postural imbalance
There are four main contributors to postural imbalances
- Repetitive activities
- Postural habits
- Structural factors.
Repetitive activities and postural imbalance
If a physical activity in your life is repeated on an ongoing basis, the muscles which are involved in this activity will strengthen. If the antagonists of this muscle are not also strengthened, the stronger muscle will begin to shorten, and the weaker muscle will lengthen in response. A good example of this is often occurs in male gym goers. The gym goer is only aware of those muscles that they can see in the mirror, and tends to focus on the areas which are considered sexy (e.g. biceps, pecs, abs). They often neglect the triceps, rhomboids, and lumbar erector spinae, and as a result end up with rounded shoulders, flattened lower back, medially rotated arms, permanently flexed biceps – the “gorilla” posture.
Another kind of repetitive activity that can lead to postural distortion is related to our sedentary lifestyle. When muscles are placed in a shortened or lengthened position for a long period of time, they become adjusted to that position. Occupations that require employees to remain seated for most of the day tend to produce shortened hip flexors, abdominal muscles and knee flexors. Conversely lengthened lumbar erector spinae, hip extensors, and knee extensors. If the person in this seated position is not conscious of their posture, their head will also tend to come forward of the chest leading to shortened SCM and sub-occipital muscles, and lengthened neck extensors.
Postural habits are essentially repetitive activities which we become neurally accustomed to. Tall teens tend to slouch. Teen girls who have large breasts try to obscure this fact by rounding their shoulders. Desk workers tend to slouch. When repeated over time, these habits become more and more entrenched in our subconscious until we are often unaware of them. Thomas Hanna, the director of the Novato institute for somatic research & training says that when people with a swayback posture are trained to control the flexor & extensor muscles of the torso, and are instructed to sit in a chair with a relaxed straight back, they feel like they are slumping forward, and are amazed when they are provided with a mirror in which they can see their straight back (Hanna, 1988)
The trauma reflex is another contributor to postural distortion. Think of the way your body moves automatically away from the stove when you touch a hot element, or how your shoulders tend to raise when you feel an acute pain in the muscles of that area. Likewise, when we are injured, and/or experience pain our body tends to contract around the pain-causing structures to prevent further experience of this pain. Hanna believes that this trauma reflex is the most common cause of uni-lateral postural distortions, and puts bilateral postural distortions (such as lordosis/kyphosis) down to our reactions to stress (Hanna, 1988). The trauma reflex is the neurological side of this contraction, but in the case of muscular strain there is an additional contributor to the contraction – the scar-tissue. As the scar-tissue forms it contracts. This can contribute to a shortening of the muscular tissue, and an increased resistance to it’s lengthening.
Structural factors are another common contributor to postural imbalance. Many people believe leg length difference to be a major contributor to uni-lateral imbalances in many people. If a leg-length difference exists, this predisposes the client to scoliotic compensation patterns. One study conducted on 653 subjects with lower back pain and 359 control subjects found that 53% of the control subjects had a right leg which was significantly shorter than the left leg. Correcting the limb length inequality by a simple shoe lift was all that was needed to permanently & completely alleviate the lower back pain and other related symptoms in 79-89% of the subjects presenting with lower back pain (Friberg, 1983).