The straight story on good posture: Pain prevention as you age
As a registered yoga instructor and an osteopathic physician who focuses on preventive measures, Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO, has learned that addressing posture early on is a great way to support the longevity and health of her patients’ muscles and bones.
Specializing in neuromusculoskeletal medicine and osteopathic manipulative medicine, Dr. Pierce-Talsma focuses on looking at patients holistically and understanding what postural, muscular and neurological issues may be contributing to their medical concerns.
“Osteopathic physicians have additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of the musculoskeletal system, including the use of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT),” says Dr. Pierce-Talsma, who is chair of the Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Department at Touro University California. “We partner with our patients to utilize the best that medical technology has to offer, while providing a hands-on, mind, body, spirit focus. This includes posture and musculoskeletal health.”
We spoke with Dr. Pierce-Talsma about her work in improving musculoskeletal health and pain management. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Why is good posture so important?
Posture is a reflection of how your musculoskeletal system is functioning as a whole. It is how your body mass is distributed in relation to gravity over your base of support. With good posture, we are biomechanically efficient. That means we’re placing the least amount of strain on our muscles, bones and ligaments as we move, walk and lie down. Everything is in line with the proper amount of tension and balance. Any change to posture will force us to counterbalance.
Good posture shouldn’t be painful. It just takes some concentration and, if you’ve had poor posture for a while, a little bit of strength building.
When we have poor posture, we add tension and compression to structures that weren’t meant to bear that weight. These stresses and strains build up over time and wear down our bones, joints and ligaments, even changing the way our muscles fire. Not only can poor posture add stress and strain, but it can also cause you to become fatigued more quickly. When you aren’t moving in proper alignment, you aren’t using your body as efficiently. This requires more energy use and leads to earlier fatigue.
I often tell my patients to sit as tall as they can—military posture—and then relax a bit. Good posture shouldn’t be painful. It just takes some concentration and, if you’ve had poor posture for a while, a little bit of strength building.
What happens to our musculoskeletal system as we age?
As we age, we lose muscle bulk, fascial elasticity and bone mass. The discs in our spine begin to compress. All of these things are the normal process of aging and our constant battle with gravity. However, poor posture can amplify this process as it creates stress and tension in areas like the cervical spine and lumbar spine.
What can an older adult do if they’re having musculoskeletal pain?
They may consider addressing their posture. Medications focus on alleviating inflammation or masking pain, but a focus on assessing posture can address the root cause.
As an osteopathic physician I use my knowledge of the musculoskeletal system to look at my patients’ posture and palpate different areas of the body for tenderness, tightness of muscles or altered range of motion of joints.
By doing this, I begin to get a picture of how someone’s posture is affecting their musculoskeletal system. I check for where there is muscle tightness or what joints might be moved out of alignment. I can then address these postural issues with OMT to realign and release any tight muscles or tissues. I may also have my patients get an ergonomic evaluation to assess if their workspace is properly set up and refer them to physical therapy or recommend yoga to gently stretch things that are tight or strengthen muscles that are weak.