Has anyone else noticed that life is all about being a question mark? We start off as babies in the fetal position, spine flexed, head forward, and then as we grow and mature, we evolve to become more upright and erect. However, as we continue to age and our work and life require a lot of forward flexion, we revert to this forward head and bent over posture I endearingly name the human question mark. Everyone has seen granny walking in the grocery store, bent forward and barely able to see past the top of her shoes.
So, the question is, my friends, how do we reverse the question mark? The answer is a combination of proper ergonomics, continued postural mobility, and strengthening.
1. Computer Posture.
So often, I’ve seen my clients clinically and professionally complaining of nagging arms, nerves, and other myofascial pain. Everyone knows the basics: sit straight, your eyes level with your computer monitor, and your feet on the floor. However, I’ve had the most success with very simple changes, i.e., actually using the armrests and/or propping up elbows to take the weight of the shoulder girdle and excess compression on your neck and upper back. Another simple but often overlooked strategy is to make sure that the computer, keyboard, and phone and in close proximity without reaching (elbows by side, please).
2. Thoracic Mobility.
The thoracic spine, aka the middle back where your ribs attach, is the mostrigid portion of the spine for good reasons; it protects many major important organs and is the building block to allow our neck and lower back to move so freely. The thoracic spine is already inherently stiff from the rib and large muscle articulations, so we are not doing ourselves any favors by sitting at a computer all day. For many of us, we are required to do prolonged sitting and other static postures, leading to, you guessed it, the start of the question mark. Consequently, our neck having much fewer articulations and more degrees of freedom compensates for this lack of mobility leading to the ape-like posture. Thoracic mobilization is essential to start at a young age to prevent these potentially problematic and lifelong issues.
For this exercise, start with foam roller perpendicular to your spine at the level of the bottom of your shoulder blades (T7). Interlock finger tips to support lower part of neck, and slowly arch back over foam roller. Hold for 5 seconds, then work your way up 1 inch at the time until you are at the base of your neck. (think top to bottom of shoulder blade)
Strengthen your middle and lower trapezius, para spinals and postural stabilizing muscles. Who cares about Gray’s Anatomy?! Here is an exercise that will be the most humbling, most fatiguing, with little or no weights needed. Introducing, my favorite, Prone-T over ball exercises.
I would suggest starting with 0-2# dumbbells in both hands with palms facing forwards and thumbs up. In an example, my favorite ‘tweak’ is to do an isometric hold of the left arm up while simultaneously performing controlled repetitions of the right arm moving only this arm up and down to the floor. After 10 reps, continue to hold right side up and repeat the same exercise to the left side while performing left arm repetitions.
Before you become the next hypothetical granny lost in the supermarket be sure to add these easy and effective exercises to your weekly routine.