Rounded shoulders are a big problem in my field of work. Besides low back pain this is the biggest population of people I see. The thing that most people don’t understand is that this one change in posture is a catalyst for so many other problems. Its the ball that gets other postural problems rolling. So – what are the causes? What makes it worse ? And what can we do to change it? Let’s discuss.
Number one on the list is postural habits ! Thanks to technology and the fact that most of us are on our devices now 24/7 this has become a chronic condition for many people, kids included. Hours and hours bent (flexed) forward causes the shoulders to round forward and the head to shift forward causing the muscles on the front of the body to become strong and tight and the muscles on the back of the body to become lengthened and weak. It’s like having a big red bow tied to the front of your body. ( see pic above) You are being pulled forward and you’re stuck there.
This stuck situation changes the position of the spinal bones and then unnecessary pressure is put on the joints of the neck, upper back and shoulders where there shouldn’t be. It causes muscle tightness and spasms, known as trigger points in the muscles throughout the jaw, neck and shoulders. These can cause radiating pain and headaches. It causes wear and tear on the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder, leading to impingement and tears. This poor alignment of the upper body posture causes the lower body to change too -“cuz the neck bones connected to the back bone, the back bones connected to hip bone, and the hip bones connected”- well you get it right? It’s one big chain of events. None of which are good.
Other activites can cause rounded shoulders. Poor computer stations. Sitting on a soft, comfy chair or couch for too long on a daily basis, repetitive movements at work or while crafting without proper postural alignment at your work station. Sleeping on too many pillows or laying on the couch with your head propped to read or watch tv. All of these repetitive habits cause change. YOUR FORM FOLLOWS YOUR FUNCTION. Meaning – what you do alot, strengthens that posture and then becomes your posture. Kind of like your mom saying -if you keep making that face it will stay that way. It’s a progression that can take years to happen. But good news you can stop it and even improve it if you are not too far gone.
WHAT MAKES IT WORSE?
So I’m sure you are already thinking it. “Well, I work out, I use weights, do yoga and Pilates, walk regularly, I’m strong”. Well maybe you do, but have you ever had someone trained observe you doing these activities? This is where I get on my platform and start preaching. You may be doing all those things but you may have poor alignment. Even a small alignment problem can cause posture to change. I’ve seen huge body builders with some of the worst rounded shoulders ever, yet they are strong and cut. It’s all about the alignment. If you have’nt had someone take a picture of you from the side standing, grab your phone and do it. Look at it. Are your shoulders rounded forward? Is your head in front of the mid- line of your body?
If that’s the case then maybe you should consider working with a physical therapist, certified Pilates trainer or trainer to have an assessment. WHY? If you don’t change your posture, by untying that big red bow, and releasing those muscles, you will continue to stay in that posture. You can lift weights, row, bench press, bicep curl etc till the cows come home, but if you don’t stretch out the front of your body first you will NEVER ( say it again- NEVER) change your posture.
A trained professional can help you by designing a program exactly for YOUR postural changes. Changing these postures ASAP can prevent issues like osteoporosis and arthritis from getting worse. It can prevent you from having neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, low back pain and decreased breathing and cardiac function. Oh yes, breathing and cardiac function. If you are hunched over do you think your lungs and heart have ample room to work well? ( answer- no)
WHAT MAKES IT BETTER?
- THINK -First and foremost- You have to start thinking about your posture. Yes- conscious awareness is the first step. You have to start catching yourself when you are in postures that aren’t ideal. It’s about 70% conscious to start with. I recommend, especially if you have pain, keeping a log of when you have pain and what position or posture you were in. So start thinking-when you sit, when you stand, when you are driving, when you are walking, when you are laying down to sleep. Where are your head and shoulders in all these postitions and adjust to make your posture better. After a while this conscious awareness will turn to unconscious awareness and you will actually catch yourself NOT being in good posture.
- STRETCH– Unless we untie that big red bow holding you in that flexed position no change is going to happen. So flexibility is huge. Find yourself a flexibility class ( I teach “Flexibility Fridays”) and do it regularly. Who knows how long it took you to get into this poor posture. But I can tell you this- change won’t happen overnight. Changing tissue and stretching takes time and dedication. But good news — we can always get some change. Is it worth it to you to feel and look better?
- STRENGTHEN- So we stretched you out, got you in good alignment- now how do we keep you there? And the answer is NOT a brace or posture bra, or any external device. It’s with strengthening. The muscles on the back of your body need to be strengthened to hold your structure ( your bones) up again. This is where a good therapist or Pilates instructor comes in. They will know the proper exercises for you specifically to do to improve your specific postural weaknesses. Pilates is a great exercise program that is designed specifically for posture improvment.
- MAINTENANCE- Yes, posture health is an ongoing battle and something that requires maintenance. As you mature in life your tissues change, your structure changes, your health can change. So an ongoing program of flexibility, strength and cardio- fitness can keep your posture in good form for the long term.
So in a nutshell, rounded shoulders are nothing to play around with. Time is of the essence to prevent pain and joint changes. Get to the right person, stay in a regular flexibility and posture program that is well thought out for you, stick with it and your body will thank you in the long run. You will feel better, look better and have less discomfort.
Visit my YouTube channel- InfinityHealthPilates for quick tips on posture, stretching and Pilates. See a professional in your area or book a private session or class with me via zoom and we can get a program going just for you)
Click the link for Classes and Private sessions via Zoom