Wow, this Body Work category I set up is sorely neglected. I figure it’s time I threw out something that focuses on this.
I have no idea how many times I was told to stand up or sit up straight. By my parents, by riding instructors/coaches/4H leaders. I probably heard it when I did dance for that one year. I think even when I was learning to play piano I heard it, something about sitting up straight helped with playing music better.
Going to massage school is what finally helped me to understand what straight actually is. I tell you what, it’s not what my very linear brain thinks straight should be. (For horsey folks, it’s much like the kind of straightness we want with correct bend on a circle.) Who would think you could achieve straightness by having curves. My a-ha came with not only understanding how the curves of the spine are supposed to work together, but being corrected in my own posture for my body mechanics. Who would ever guess that I might have poor posture. (Ha! hahahahaha!)
Most massage therapist who desire longevity to their careers pay attention to their body mechanics. Good body mechanics start with good posture and a properly aligned spine.
What I learned about my own posture is that the way I had stood every time someone told me to stand up straight was to literally try to straighten my spine out. Which actually made it harder for me to be correct with my posture. What I wound up with was a posterior rotation in my pelvis, slumpy shoulders (technical term, can’t you tell) and excess strain through out my back. It’s no wonder I had encountered back problems.
It was halfway through the year of massage school that one of the instructors (thanks Miss Elisa!) got it through my thick skull how to change my posture. She told me to stick my butt out. What? That’s just rude, right? Well kind of, coming from the polite middle class upbringing I did, where those things weren’t much discussed. The better place for my pelvis leans more towards what I call a “ghetto booty” (btw, do not do a google search for images using that term!) as opposed to the “old man/no butt” posture that I tended towards. (Think a bit of Steve Urkel from “Family Matters” if you haven’t seen too many old men.) In more technical terms, I needed to rotate my pelvis more anteriorly.
Quick Anatomy and Physiology lesson. Our spines naturally have curves to them. They are not simply a column of building blocks with one stacked squarely on top of the other. Our neck (cervical vertebrae) have what is called a lordotic curve. When viewed from the side the middle part of the section moves towards the front of the body. Next the upper back or thoracic section of the vertebral column has a kyphotic curve where the middle part of that portion of spine is farther away from the front of the body. The low back (lumbar vertebrae) have a lordotic curve again, the sacrum repeats the kyphotic curve. For the horse geeks out there (like me) that learned a sway back horse has lordosis these are relatively easy to keep straight. Kyphosis is what Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) had. Human spines have to have these curves to function normally. (Note, kyphosis and lordosis are the pathological conditions where the curve is taken to an extreme, impairing (that seems to be the assumption) normal function.)
To continue the A&P lesson, our sacrum is more or less attached to our pelvis at the Ilia (one of the bones that make up each side of your hips.) So, any flexion of the pelvis will drag the sacrum along. Now, the sacrum is one bone made of (usually) five vertebrae that fuse together when we are very, very young. There is not individual articulations (movements) within the sacrum. It does have have movement where it meets up with the last lumbar vertebrae. Back to the connection between the sacrum and pelvis, it is not a solid connection. There are the sacrum meets up with the Ilia at the sacroiliac joint (SI for short) where, as with most joints, things are stabilized with ligaments. There is a small degree of movement at the SI joints, certainly enough for them to be put under strain and even displaced.
Why did I tend to tuck my rear under, putting more strain on my SI joints and my whole lower back musculature? The short answer is who knows. Somehow, things in my head translated “stand-up straight” to literally trying to straighten my spine out. It was also probably tied in to a whacked out body image, not knowing what to do with curves that appeared with puberty and other such things. Might be in part that to “suck it in” to appear thinner I pulled my stomach in and rounded my lower back. Whatever all the reasons, I have a habit of rotating my pelvis and putting undue strain on my body.
Whether my instructor was rude or not in telling me to stick my butt out, it helped. Any time I feel I am working too hard with a massage stroke, I check if I have my butt tucked under or not. It is the key for me. Some folks have to think about bending their knees more, or where they have their feet placed or putting the wrist in a more neutral position… for me those things fall in line once my pelvis is properly oriented to the rest of my body.
An added perk (this is aimed again at my horse-y friends)… when we as riders have good posture it is so much easier for our horses to have good posture.