Do you find that you can cross one leg over the other comfortably but not the other? Do you find it difficult to breathe when squatting, bending or lying down? Do you notice that one foot strikes the ground harder when you walk or run?
Posture is the way your muscles and skeleton hold your body erect. We’re told to stand up straight. And while many of us are used to slouching and hunching over our desks, computers and tasks, the difference posture makes in how our bodies adapt to breathe, move and align itself is important and affected by how we use bodies day in and day out.
Posture affects breathing, muscle growth, mobility and when it is asymmetrical -– that is, when one side of the body is used more than the other -– it can cause a range of pain conditions and health problems. The human body is naturally asymmetrical and the placement of organs and system (musculoskeletal, nervous, vestibular, etc.) usage differs from one side of the body to the other. However, it’s the way we tend to position our bodies that can cause problems.
“Neutrality” is what we are working toward with your exercises. Being “neutral” means that your pelvis, trunk and head are in their optimal position to work effectively and efficiently. When you walk into the clinic, your physical therapist will always test you to see if your body is “neutral.” If it is not, this helps us guide the treatment to obtain “neutrality.” In “neutral” your bony structure is in its most optimal position with the muscles about the bony structure in their optimal length for contraction.
The Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) trains physical therapists to recognize this asymmetry in the body and to provide treatment for it. According to Ron Hruska Jr., MPA, PT, at PRI, “Posture is a reflection of the ‘position’ of many systems (musculoskeletal, nervous, vestibular, etc.) that are created through limited functional patterns. These patterns reflect our ability and inability to breathe, rotate, and rest symmetrically (same on both sides) with the left and right sides of our body.”
“’Limited functional patterns’ refers to movement that is restricted in directions, planes or normal boundaries of functional range, as a result of improper joint, muscle, and rest position. Function is therefore limited because of restrictions preventing one from using muscles and joints in their normal range. Adaptation and compensation for these limitations require hyperactivity of muscle that is placed in improper positions that exceed normal physiological length,or in positions that make them a mover or counter-mover in planes and directions that are not observed when one is in a neutral or more symmetrical state of rest.”
What does this mean? When you repeatedly favor or use one side of your body, the other muscles have to compensate. As a result some muscles become “toned” from overuse and others weaken from lack of use. This causes muscle imbalances, pain and limits function.