I admit it: I am a posture geek. I think it started in Junior High when I was in gymnastics, just because I became aware of my body and how it moved in space. Later (let’s just say MUCH later), when I went to massage school—that’s when I really became obsessed with posture. I remember walking into my anatomy class and sitting next to a guy that was already certified in massage, but was going for his Associate’s degree. He started talking to me about structural massage. And that was it; I was hooked.
You see, structural massage addresses all the imbalances in a person’s muscles as a result of faulty (okay, “bad”) posture. These can happen for a number of reasons: because you get injured, so you start compensating for the injury; or because you sit flexed at a computer all day; or even because you were embarrassed at being the tallest girl in junior high, so you hunched over, hoping to not be noticed. As that posture gets held over time, everything else in the body has to adjust; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Then the muscles that are supposed to hold you up give out, and the ligaments and muscles of movement have to take over. It’s amazing, really, but the body can adapt to all this for years, until one day, it just can’t anymore, and you wake up with sciatica, like I did.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve determined that for me, it was a combination of how I sat at work all day, and driving a lot in my new car with its backward tipping “bucket” seat. Eventually, my pelvis was tilted to the right, and my lower back muscles were pulling tight to keep my pelvis from rotating backwards. All this caused a side bend in my lumbar vertebrae and my right hip to turn out. In an effort to stand up “straight”, I overextended my back, putting my ribcage out in front of my pelvis. No one would have noticed all of this, mind you, but “obviously” my sciatic nerve noticed it, and at one point, it just couldn’t take it anymore. Ouch. I mean like for 2 years. Constantly.
But I was a massage therapist, so I figured I could heal myself… Well, maybe, but with a little help. Not having enough time (or was it a question of motivation…?), I needed someone to help me strengthen my core again and to bring my ribcage and pelvis back into the right relationship. So, I went to a really good Pilates instructor (Lindsay Hanahan at Move Studios in Denver). I went to a chiropractor regularly too, and got a Toyota, which has a more adjustable seat that lets my pelvis be more neutral while I drive. I started really working on my body mechanics while I massage, and get regular massages myself. Now, I would say that I’m doing about 99% better. Every once in a while I get a twinge, but nothing major.
The great thing about fixing my sciatica through improving my posture is not just that I avoided surgery and the slippery slope that goes with it; it’s all the other benefits that I got from it. For instance, I will save my back from getting osteoarthritis because the joints will wear more evenly now that my back is straighter; my neck doesn’t get that awful tension in it anymore; and I breathe better, which means I have more energy and less anxiety.
Structural massage can release the right tissues, but other things have to change in your life too, like making sure you move more, strengthen the weak muscles that contribute to your pattern, and making your workspace more ergonomic. It sounds like a lot, but I can honestly say, it’s worth it.