YogaBack Turns Your Commute Time into Effortless Posture Therapy Time!
by Dennis Zacharkow, PT.
Even with the average national commute time to and from work now over 50 minutes a day, the importance of a healthy driving posture is virtually ignored by health and fitness professionals. This is unfortunate, as driving distorts one’s posture more than any other daily activity, due to the poor design of car backrests and to the very fixed posture of driving. Unlike sitting in an office chair, with the ability to frequently change one’s position, the postural stress from driving is constant.
The potential harm begins as soon as one leans against the car’s backrest. The trunk collapses as the rib cage hinges forward and downward towards the pelvis. The resulting slumped driving posture rounds the back and shoulders, and protrudes the lower abdomen.
The protruding lower abdomen characteristic of a slumped driving posture results from the lowering of the rib cage, diaphragm, and abdominal organs, along with the relaxation and overstretching of the deep lower abdominal muscles.
Adding a lumbar support to the vehicle’s backrest, the most popular postural recommendation of physical therapists and chiropractors, only results in a further protrusion of the lower abdomen, without correcting the rounding of the upper back and shoulders.
Over time, these distorted postural adaptations from driving are naturally carried over into standing and walking. (Since the 1920s, several posture researchers implicated a habitual slumped sitting posture as the main cause of a round back standing posture with a protruding lower abdomen.)
Traditional exercises for improving one’s posture have minimal success because they are too fragmented in their approach to the human body - not addressing all the interrelated components of optimal healthy posture simultaneously - and they are performed for too short a duration. In addition, popular postural exercises such as crunches and abdominal machines actually reinforce a round back posture by pulling the rib cage forward and downward!
Although driving is the major distorter of one’s posture, two key modifications while driving can actually enhance one’s posture far more effectively than traditional exercises. Plus, this non-exercise approach is timesaving, as the posture training occurs effortlessly while commuting to and from work.
The two key modifications for rejuvenating one’s posture are the addition of sacral support and lower thoracic support to the vehicle’s backrest.
Positioned just below the lower back, this support stabilizes the pelvis in its proper neutral position, and facilitates activation of the deep lower abdominal muscles - the "girdle-like" muscles responsible for flattening the lower abdominal wall and reducing the compressive stress on the lower back.
Lower Thoracic Support
Positioned just below the shoulder blades against the lower part of the thoracic spine, this support corrects a round back posture by elevating the rib cage and elongating the spine. An elongated spine is the key to a flatter lower abdomen when standing and walking! By maintaining an elongated spine, one will gradually notice a natural and effortless retraction of the lower abdominal wall, due to activation of postural reflexes.
This non-exercise approach ingrains one’s neuromuscular system with all the critical components of optimal healthy posture simultaneously. For individuals with an “average commute,” the addition of sacral and lower thoracic support provides over 50 minutes of effortless posture re-education a day. If among the 3.4 million Americans with an “extreme commute” of 90 minutes or more each way to work, one benefits from three or more hours of posture training a day.
Howlett, D., and Overberg, P.: Think your commute is tough? USA Today, November 30, 2004, Cover Story pp.1A-2A.
Kellogg, J.H.: Observations on the relations of posture to health and a new method of studying posture and development. The Bulletin of the Battle Creek Sanitarium and Hospital Clinic, 22:193-216, 1927.
Rathbone, J.L.: Corrective Physical Education. Philadelphia, Saunders, 1934.
Zacharkow, D.: Posture: Sitting, Standing, Chair Design and Exercise. Springfield, Thomas, 1988.
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