Part 6: Upper Body Posture

Anders Hendricks, Aurora Sports Medicine Institute

Anders is a licensed athletic traininer at the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute in Burlington and at Badger High School in Lake Geneva.

For the most part, the Perfect Posture blog series’ main focus has been on the lower body.  This entry will focus on proper upper body posture, with emphasis on the back and shoulders.  By being aware of their postural habits, and strengthening the upper back muscles and stretching the pectorals, a person will be able to improve their upper body posture.

Like most people, I spend a decent amount of my day sitting.  When I wake up, I sit at my computer to check my email before getting in my car to drive to work.  Sitting at home in front of the television or manicuring my Fantasy Basketball roster in the evening adds to more time seated.  Commonly when seated, the upper back is rounded, the shoulders are forward and the neck is extended, leading to what is called forward shoulder posture (pictured here). Over time, this leads to increased stress over the vertebral discs in the neck, shortening of the chest (pectoral) muscles, and weakness in the upper back.  The good news is that most of this can be corrected with a few simple exercises and suggestions.   

 Two very important muscles to aid in improved upper body posture are the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor (pictured here).  The rhomboids exist between the spine and the inside (medial) border of the shoulder blade (scapula), and work to pull the shoulder blades together towards the spine (retraction).

When seated with forward shoulder posture, the rhomboids are stretched and the pectorals are shortened.  The pectorals run from the breastbone (sternum) and collarbone (clavicle) and insert on the upper portion of the arm bone (humerus).  After being shortened for an extended period of time, the pectorals become tight, causing the shoulders to become chronically forward.  This posture places the rhomboids in an inefficient position and puts increased pressure over the intervertebral discs of the neck and upper back.  Lastly, this posture causes the shoulders to remain in a less stable position, making the muscles of the shoulder more prone to tendonitis and other problems.  Fortunately, this can be corrected with a few simple activities.

An excellent way to start improving ones posture is to take another look at the Perfect Posture #2 – Abdominal Stabilization blog (found here). This blog examines how one can properly utilize their transverse abdominis to stabilize their pelvis. When this activity is practiced in a seated posture, it improves spinal alignment in the upper back and neck and improves shoulder posture.  One can begin this exercise when seated, and can make it more difficult by attempting to stabilize the core while on a Swiss ball (pictured here).  To further increase difficulty, place your hands out in front, or attempt to maintain this posture while doing alternating knee lifts. 

Next, it is important to work on lengthening the pectoral muscles.  This will decrease the forward pull placed on the shoulders by the pectorals, which will allow the rhomboids to exist in a more natural length.  The best stretch for the pectorals is termed the door frame stretch (pictured here).  Arms should be perpendicular to the torso, forearms should be perpendicular with the arms, and your head and eyes pointed forward.  By shifting your weight forward, one should feel a stretch across their chest.   

Lastly, rows are an excellent way to strengthen the rhomboids.  Using an elastic band or row machine, start with arms out in front, thumbs up, feet shoulder width apart and core tight (pictured here).  One should then attempt to pull back until the elbows are even with the torso, and then squeeze the shoulder blades toward the spine (pictured here).  The shoulders should move straight back; if the shoulders are shrugging, the exercise is being done inappropriately.  Again, these exercises will allow one to feel better, and allow for their muscles to work more efficiently.           

For questions, or to suggest future topics, feel free to send me an email at anders.hendricks@aurora.org.  Thanks a bunch!

 Follow the Perfect Posture series!

Don’t give up the sport — give up the pain! Visit the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute at 13 Wisconsin locations, visit our website, follow us on Facebook,  browse our YouTube channel, or call our hotline at 1-800-219-7776. 

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About Anders Hendricks

Anders Hendricks is a Licensed Athletic Trainer for the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute in Burlington and at Badger High School in Lake Geneva. Anders studied Kinesiology and Athletic Training at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and has worked as an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin at Parkside. In the summer and fall, he enjoys following the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers, and ice hockey and downhill skiing in the winter. Anders started blogging to give people a better understanding of what athletic training is, and how licensed athletic trainers help the patients of Aurora Health Care live well.
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