Winter may now be behind us but the past few cold wet months will have taken their toll on all of us, for some it’s the cold or the lack of daylight, or our eating patterns. But for every single one of us it will also have had an impact on our posture.
With musculoskeletal imbalances (most prevalently back, shoulder and neck pain) affecting over 80% of UK adults, this article will explain the impact of postural hibernation and offer tips to correct these postural issues and reduce the risk of injury as we prepare for a more active spring/summer
Over the winter months, our posture becomes worse for a number of reasons that I will outline below – all, when you stop to think about them, quite obvious.
First off, the days are shorter and the weather is generally worse and as a result we spend more time indoors, most of it sitting. However our bodies are designed to stand not sit, and the more time we spend sitting, the worse it is for our posture, as the spine rounds forwards, the neck protrudes forwards and the shoulders roll forwards.
This imbalance can result in a number of debilitating conditions, including muscle tension, debilitating back and neck pain from disc protrusions, referred pain (i.e. sciatica), shoulder impingement (pinching of the rotator cuff vs. the shoulder blade).
Even when we’re outside it doesn’t help. We get cold, and the body’s response is to curl up to conserve heat, rounding our shoulders and back, enhancing the postural imbalances, and further increasing the risk of pain and injury.
In winter, we eat differently too. Summer salads are replaced with stodgier, fattier foods (pies, mash and chips etc.). As we’re also less active, this results in weight gain and reduced muscle tone. Unsurprisingly, both of the above can have a negative effect on our confidence, and as a result posture; we are less likely to hold ourselves in an upright position, instead shoulders pull forwards and our back rounds, in a subconscious reaction to hide the new ‘spare tyre’.
Lastly, in winter, muscles lose some of their elasticity from disuse, making it harder for them to cope with those postural imbalances and more prone to strains and tears when we do return to exercise.
So, what do we do to correct these postural problems we have created and prevent injury as we return to spring/summer activity levels.
A great way to start is with some stretches to open up your posture and loosen up some key muscle groups. So:
1. Open your shoulders back up (stretch your smaller pectoral muscle in your chest ‘pec minor’).
Stand in a corner with your palms on the wall, elbows at shoulder height and bent to 90 degrees, lean your body into the wall and hold for 30 secs, repeat 3 times.
2. Retract your neck back into a more upright position.
Looking straight ahead, place both hands on your chin and push your neck back into retraction and hold for 5 secs, repeat 5 times.
3. Stretch the front of your hips ‘hip flexors’, kneel on one knee with your other leg out in front, with your pelvis upright, lunge forward to create a stretch on the kneeling leg side, hold for 30secs and repeat 3 times each side.
4. Use a foam roller to straighten out your middle back, lie over a foam roller (placed at nipple line), support your head with both hands, plant both feet firmly into the ground, lift your hips and roll up to the base of your neck, then return to nipple line. Repeat 10 times.
And finally, when we return to outdoor activities, we need to do it steadily. Accept that most of us are not as fit as we were in and our joints and muscles will be stiffer and more injury-prone from disuse.
So if you want to run for example, start with a fast walk, keeping shoulders back and down, building up to a steady jog for 10 minute intervals (with fast walking in between), and do no more than half or even just a quarter of the distance you used to run at the end of last Summer.