Our guest blogger, Alastair Bishop, explains something we should all think about.
“Bad Posture is the disease of the 21st Century”. I have lost count of the number of times that I have said this to my massage clients.
I first discovered this fairly early in my career as a professional massage therapist. I hired a space at a business conference in Halifax, and was offering back-and-shoulder chair massages for delegates. I was surprised to find that I had never come across so many physical wrecks in my life. Badly curved backs and stiff muscles in their shoulders were commonplace.
Whilst chatting to these clients, I discovered a number of common factors. All of them worked at desks, most of them were in IT or spent a long part of the working day at their computers, and most spent hours driving as part of their jobs or commuting. In addition, most admitted to a great deal of stress – they were trying to start small businesses when the recession was biting.
We all have a curve in our spine roughly between the shoulder blades, the thoracic curve. This is perfectly natural. It helps us to maintain our balance when we stand up. But the way we live now puts excessive pressure on this part of the back. We spend hours hunched over desks, hunched over computers, and hunched over steering wheels. This contracts the muscles that enable us to bend our spines (The erector spinulae muscles that run up our backbones.) It also affects the many different groups of muscles that are attached to our shoulder blades (too many to mention here.)
Stress also plays its part. (Stress is the other 21st Century disease.) Stress commonly causes us to hunch our shoulders, with the same physiological consequences. I also find that stress causes stiff muscles in the back and sides of the neck, particularly in women in my experience. Why ladies should experience this more is a matter of speculation. Perhaps stress causes women to lean their heads forward more than gents? I’d be interested if other therapists have found the same, and if they have any explanations.
Massage is a great antidote to bad posture in the upper back. Therapists will first apply long gentle sweeping strokes to relax the muscles and sooth the nerves, and also incidentally get the client used to the therapist’s touch before applying more vigorous strokes. We then apply a mix of strokes to loosen muscles along the back and shoulders and release knots. Anyone who has had a massage may have wondered why the therapist asked the client to put the back of each hand on the small of their back. This is to raise the shoulder blade to obtain access to the subscapularis muscle beneath the bone, which is commonly prone to tension nodules. We then revert to more gentle sweeping strokes to relax the muscles again.
As well as tackling the physiological aspects of bad posture, massage is the best quick fix de-stresser known to mankind.
If anyone is interested, I too have dreadful posture. My wife is always telling me to stand up straight because my back is curved. Thirty-odd years bending over a Civil Service desk, many of them bent over a PC, and until recently many years bending over motorcycle handlebars have all left their mark. Pity I didn’t know about the benefits of massage earlier.