The following postural exercises are frequently prescribed in clinical practice to improve posture (particularly of the neck and upper back). Many of these exercises can also be used to help prevent posture related injuries by giving the body a break from poor postural positions during everyday activities. Optimal posture is an important component of injury prevention and athletic performance.
For optimal results, these postural exercises should generally be used in conjunction with appropriate physiotherapy treatment and maintaining optimal posture as much as possible in everyday life (or as close to this as possible provided there is no increase in symptoms).Pilates exercises which have an emphasis on maintaining optimal posture during exercises are a great adjunct to improving posture.
In general, optimal posture can be obtained by sitting or standing tall with your shoulders back and your chin tucked in as far as possible (ensuring your eyes and nose are facing forwards) and then relaxing a little (approximately 10 – 20%). Another good way of obtaining optimal posture is standing with your back to a wall with your heels, buttocks, shoulders and head in contact with the wall (eyes and nose facing forwards), then trying to maintain this posture with minimal muscular effort during everyday activities (such as sitting, driving, computer use, house work, sleeping etc.).
The following postural exercises are designed to improve flexibility of the joints and muscles of the body which when tight may encourage poor posture, whilst strengthening muscles that encourage optimal posture. You should discuss the suitability of these postural exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, you should begin with the Initial Exercises. Once these become too easy, gradually progress to the Intermediate and then Advanced Postural Exercises. As a general rule, the exercises should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain.
The following initial exercises should generally be performed 3 – 5 times daily provided they do not cause or increase pain.
Shoulder Blade Squeezes
Begin sitting or standing tall with your back and neck straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch (figure 2). Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times provided the exercise does not cause or increase symptoms.
Begin sitting or standing tall with your back and neck straight, and shoulders back slightly. Tuck your chin in as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch (figure 3). Keep your eyes and nose facing forwards. Hold for 2 seconds and repeat 10 times provided the exercise does not cause or increase symptoms.
Extension over Chair
Begin sitting tall on an appropriate chair (the top of the back rest should end at the level of your mid back). Place your hands behind your neck and gently arch backwards over the chair, looking up towards the ceiling (figure 4). Move as far as you can go without pain and provided you feel no more than a mild to moderate stretch (ensuring you do not overbalance). Repeat 10 times provided the exercise does not cause or increase symptoms.