Stand Up Straight: The Importance of Massage Therapy for Proper Posture

By David R. Ayers, Lead Massage Therapist, Meredith Whole Living Center

Posture is defined as the position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting. It is something we rarely give much thought to, especially as adults. It is not uncommon, however, to notice another person’s posture and even to silently comment on it. Adults are also often guilty of telling children and teenagers to “stand up straight” or “stop slouching.” The unfortunate truth is that we all need constant attention and care for our posture. Whether you work on your feet all day or sit at a desk, road warrior, at-home parent, kid, teen, adult, elderly or anything in between, your posture is usually the last thing on your mind. As a massage therapist, posture is one of the first things I observe when I greet a new client and they are often surprised by how much I can know about them just from that brief observation.

Posture deterioration is so gradual that it is unlikely to be noticed by the client or even those closest to them. Doctors often miss it as well, since they do not usually check someone’s gait. A person’s gait is the manner in which they walk. Since a patient is usually in the waiting room by the time they see their Doctor, the Doctor won’t get a chance to see them walk. They may not even have them stand up meaning they will miss postural misalignment's as well.. An abnormal gait occurs when the bodily systems that control the way a person walks do not function properly. When these causes are muscular in nature, massage therapy is the best and most readily available treatment for most people.

When I first regard a client’s posture and gait I immediately look for abnormalities. Is one shoulder lower than the other? Are the hips square or uneven? Is the head properly aligned over the shoulders or is it too far forward? After I see all this on my own I will usually ask some open ended questions to dive a little deeper. What brings you in today? What kind of work do you do? What, if anything, is causing you pain recently? Has there been an injury? After that, it’s time for the bodywork.

Muscle and tendon injuries are common and frequent in literally all types of people. Doesn’t matter if you’re a gym rat or a couch commando, everyone slips on the ice, rolls an ankle, lifts something at a bad angle, sleeps funny, holds their kid on the same side all the time, keeps a patient chart or clipboard in the same hand, and on and on. The injury isn’t the worst part, though. It is what happens afterwards should the injury be left untreated. When an injury occurs, that muscle, tendon, or joint will cease to function properly. The body’s unconscious reaction to this is to have other muscles do the work to cover for the one that’s ‘out sick.’ That’s all well and good in the short term, but if the injured muscle is never treated, those other muscles are doing double the work. Eventually they will get fatigued from doing two jobs. When this happens, typically, the cascade will continue and other muscles will do jobs they aren’t meant to do either. In a matter of weeks you may find that the right ankle you rolled in January is now affecting your left shoulder in May and you have no idea why. That is where massage therapy comes in.

My favorite part of being a Massage Therapist is the detective work. When someone presents with a shoulder impingement, a stiff neck, or a sore lower back, that will not necessarily be where I start to work on the problem or even where I spend much of my time. I very frequently find that the cause of the client’s chief complaint lies elsewhere in the body. I do so by way of exploration, palpation, and deep tissue work. With trigger point release therapy, activated stretches, and various other modalities of massage therapy, I will address the route cause of the issue and then work back to the chief complaint in an attempt to undo the damage from the initial injury and the domino effect that ensued.

Depending on how long the injury has been untreated, I may be able to achieve relief in one visit or it may take as many as five visits, preferably within a week of each other. This is why we created our discounted 5-treatment package at Meredith Whole Living Center to encourage people to continue getting the care they need to actually fix the issue they've been having rather than just relieve it for a little while. Clients will always leave with exercises to do at home and suggestions such as lowering the weight of their purse or changing the chair they sit in at work. There is practically no end to the little things that can cause problems with a person’s posture or gait. Left unchecked, some of these negative effects can become permanent. Therefore, regular Massage Therapy is an integral part of self-care and preventative health.

For further information, please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have at massage@meredithwholeliving.com.