May 2014 03

The sway-back posture

By: Dave Wheeler

Ever wondered why your body seems to ache in the same place all the time?

Whether it’s your shoulders, your lower back or your hips, that perennial pain is down to the way that you carry yourself in the world - your posture.

Almost all muscular problems can be traced back to our posture, which is about the alignment of our body.


The neutral posture

In the so called neutral posture, the spine pelvis and hips are all vertically lined up. Gravity acts down on the joints and the impact of the force of any movements are spiral in a balanced way up the body.


Fig 1. The neutral posture


The trouble is that very few of us actually have this neutral posture - according to recent research in fact, only 1.6% of us do.


Sway-back posture

The most common posture of people living in urban areas is called sway-back. With many of us seated for most of the day - at the desk, on the train, in the car, at the kitchen table or on the sofa - the muscles at the front of the body, particularly the lower abdomen and the quadriceps (the muscles at the front of the thigh), become weak through underuse.

With the weak muscles above and below the front of the hip joint, when standingup those muscles are less able to support the weight of the body against gravity.

The person then leans back to maintain balance and the pelvis tilts backwards.

Sway back posture and muscle imbalance ┬ęDave Wheeler 2014
Fig. 2 The sway-back posture

Often, a person with sway-back posture also has locked knees.


Muscle imbalance and the sway-back posture

Look at the diagram of the sway-back posture, above.

In red I’ve marked the muscles that are typically tight (or hypertonic):

  • the muscles at the back of the neck
  • the lower back muscles
  • the chest and upper abdominals
  • the hamstrings, and
  • the adductors

In blue I’ve marked the muscles that are usually either weak or stretched taut like a drum:

  • the front of the neck
  • the mid-upper back
  • the lower abdominals
  • the gluteals
  • the quadriceps (muscles at the front of the thigh)

People with sway-back posture will often fatigue if required to stand for long periods of time.

You and your posture

Your posture has a big impact on how you sit, stand and walk - these things in turn will put different strains on your body, especially if you have a sway-back posture.

The less balanced the muscles are between the front and back of your body, the more the impact of any running, jumping or twisting is going to have on your knees and hips. A good remedial massage therapist can help to balance you out and give you advice and exercises to strengthen the muscles that need it, in order to bring your musculature back into balance.

If you get aches and pains, it’s important that your therapist accurately assesses your posture. For example, if you’ve got a sway-back posture, lower back ache may well be because of relatively weak lower abdominal muscles. So as well as treating your lower back to relieve the pain, a good remedial massage therapist will lead you into developing more abdominal muscle to help reduce the strain on your lower back in future.

Just getting a massage of the muscles that ache might work for a bit; equally, though, you may just be treating the symptoms, rather than the actual problem.

I use a number of different techniques to assess every client’s posture: visual, hands-on, and electronic. That way, if you’ve got a sway-back posture, I have a good idea of how your muscles are being used in your everyday life, and I can tailor my treatment specifically to you.

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.