There are many myths out there about the human body.
Myth #1: Lumbar supports are good for your back.
Reality: If your lower back is tight, a chair with a good lumbar support feels great. Sitting without a lumbar support can be uncomfortable because your tight back muscles are being pulled and stretched. A lumbar support brings your lower back into an arched position in which your chronically contracted back muscles are being shortened even more.
So while it feels good, the more time you spend sitting with a lumbar support, the tighter your back will get. Your best bet is to sit in a chair with a high, straight back or on an exercise ball.
Myth #2: You get your posture from your mother.
Reality: We like to blame our mother for things—like the helmet-shaped haircut she gave us when we were five—but we can’t blame her for our posture.
While genetics are responsible for our height and bone structure, posture is actually a learned behavior.
Repetitive activities, like spending many hours at your computer or on your iPhone, will eventually lead to a rounded upper back and shoulders. Your emotions, such as being stressed, scared or tired, can also make you slouch.
As a teenager trying to look cool you may have adopted a slouching posture to make it look like you didn’t care, and that posture could have become so deeply learned that it stayed with you into adulthood.
You can even subconsciously mimic the posture of someone you spend a lot of time with—like your husband, best friend…or your mother—to the point that you habituate their posture. The good news is that just as you learned your posture, it can be unlearned.
Myth #3: Supportive running shoes are good for your knees.
Reality: The barefoot running trend has already gone a long way toward disproving this myth. Running shoes with thick, cushiony soles feel great at first, but they make it really easy for you to land on your heels as you run. You would never land on your heels when you’re running barefoot, because it would hurt like hell.
If you’re heel-striking, your knees are probably straight, which means the force of you coming down on the pavement is going right into your knee joints. We are built to absorb shock by allowing our knees, ankles and hips to bend freely as our feet strike the ground, and this can only happen if we’re landing on the middle or balls of our feet.
Ultimately, your running shoe is not the most important thing—it’s your running form.
Personally, I love the feel of a really thin, flexible sole when I run. It gives me just enough cushioning to be comfortable running on the streets (even the Tarahumara Indians think we’re crazy for running barefoot on pavement) while still allowing the muscles in my feet and the joints in my legs to work as they are meant to.
Myth #4: You have one leg longer than the other.
Reality: Doctors and chiropractors will often diagnose people with leg length discrepancies when what they are really pointing out are apparent leg discrepancy.
Most of us have a dominant side of our body, and we use that side in different ways than we do our non-dominant side.
For example, I’m right-handed, and when I was a ballet dancer I used to practice movements more often on my right side than on my left. I also had the habit of standing with all my weight on my left leg.
In photos of me as a teenager you can see my right hip hiked up much higher than my left, and this posture stayed with me into adulthood. I remember stepping on and wearing away the bottom hem on the left leg of my pants, while the right hem stayed perfect.
A few years ago when I learned how to release the chronic tightness in my obliques (the muscles on the sides of our waist that hike up our hips) my hips evened out, and all of a sudden my legs were miraculously the same length. The pain in my left hip went away too!
Myth #5: You’re going to get shorter as you get older.
Reality: The natural aging process will most likely take a little bit of your height, but not nearly as much as you might think. Your intervertebral discs are composed of 80% water, and some dehydration of the discs naturally occurs as we age. So as the discs lose water and become smaller and flatter, you lose a little bit of height.
The vast majority of changes you experience in your height and your posture as you age are functional rather than structural; meaning that they are a result of the way you use your body.
As you age, you build up chronic muscle tension from repetitive daily habits and movement patterns. In other words, the older you get, the tighter you get.
People tend to get shorter over time because the muscles in their trunks get tighter.
When your obliques, abdominals and back muscles get tight, they pull you down, compressing your spine and actually making you shorter. Staying active and flexible will go a long way toward preserving your height and making you the tallest guy on the shuffleboard court.
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Sarah Warren is a Clinical Somatic Educator who works with people who have chronic pain, musculoskeletal conditions, and posture and mobility issues. She is the co-owner and co-founder of Somatic Movement Center in Watertown, MA. Sarah’s passion is helping people work with the underlying cause of their pain, and teaching them how to get rid of their pain for life. Follow Sarah on Twitter @movepainfree and reach her through www.somaticmovementcenter.com.
Editor: Carolyn Gilligan
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