The Importance Of Alignment
Do you want to feel good in your body at work, during sports or exercise???? If the answer is yes, then the first step is making sure your biomechanical alignment is sound. If you are one of my patients, readers, or friends, you have probably heard me talk about alignment and how important our biomechanical alignment is for the health of our muscles and joints.
Before I go on, let's define biomechanical alignment...
Biomechanics is the study of the mechanics of the body, especially of the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal structure. Biomechanical alignment is the ideal state of the body, where our joints and muscles are positioned for maximum function. I believe most musculoskeletal and neuromuscular issues involving pain in the body are initially caused by faulty biomechanical alignment.
Essentially if your alignment isn’t correct, your joints won’t function as well because the two ends of the bones that make up the joint don’t fit together properly. This may cause arthritic changes in the joint which will further impair your biomechanical alignment. As a result of this, the muscles on either side of the joint may become short and tight or long and weak which will even further change your alignment and result in musculoskeletal pain and faulty movement patterns.
Why Is Biochemical Alignment So Important?
It is imperative that your muscles and joints are properly aligned to function well. Normal movement depends on proper biomechanical alignment.
Sound alignment allows your muscles and joints to function without excess stress on them and may delay degenerative changes that occur in your joints and muscles over time.
Additionally, If you find that you are not moving well or that you have pain, other structures in the body have to compensate for those that are not aligned properly and therefore not working well. This compensation can lead to additional shearing, stress, and load on your neuromuscular and skeletal system which includes your fascia, muscles, nerves, joints and connective tissue.
What Are The Factors That Affect Our Alignment?
1. Natural Posture: Everyone is built differently and we all are born with our own alignment, in which there is a wide range of normal. As we begin to function against gravity as babies and then later engage in certain types of physical activity, certain parts of us that are poorly aligned from birth may become problematic.
2. Habitual Posture: Postures that we assume on a regular basis and for long periods of time, will, over time, create changes in our joint position and muscle length and can alter our alignment and result in faulty movement patterns and pain. The more we assume these habitual postures, the harder it is to reverse the changes that occur in our muscles and joints. The most common example is sitting at a poorly designed workstation staring at a computer screen without getting up and moving.
3. Flexibility: Tight and short muscles will place abnormal forces on our joints and can change our alignment. Short muscles on one side of a joint may also weaken muscles that have the opposite function further changing our alignment for the worse. For example, decreased flexibility in your pectoralis muscles in your shoulder can pull your shoulder joint forward, changing the alignment of your shoulders. In addition, tight pecs can cause weakness in the opposing muscles which are those of your upper back. Without your upper back muscles to hold the shoulders back into the right position, the shoulders will sit even farther forward.
4. Strength: Weakness in one muscle group may create tightness in an opposing muscle group. It is that tightness that will change a joint’s alignment because the weaker muscle group isn’t able to maintain normal alignment against a tighter muscle. See the example above in #3.
5. Vision: Poor vision may contribute to a forward head and shoulder posture and may even create rounding in your spine especially when sitting at a computer or any other device with a screen.
6. Weight: Large breasts or a distended abdomen can change the natural curvature of your spine, shoulders, and pelvis as the extra weight pulls the spine out of alignment.
7. Emotion: Those who are shy. unhappy, or stressed can assume certain postures that change their alignment... i.e., shy kids tend to look down at the floor and have a forward head posture.
How Can A Biomechanical Assessment Help You?
A biomechanical assessment of your alignment looks at the whole person from the head to the feet assessing relationships between body parts.
These relationships are important as pain in one area may be due to a weakness or structural problem in another area.
A biomechanical assessment can:
1. find the cause of your muscle and joint pain
2. improve functional fitness and athletic performance
3. identify tight muscles and weak muscles BEFORE injury occurs
4. identify and resolve poor movement patterns
5. identify poor posture habits that contribute to your pain and faulty movement patterns
How Can You Feel Good In Your Body Again?
If you have pain or difficulty with movement or you just don’t feel good in your body, it is imperative that you seek the help of a physical therapist. Your PT will perform a detailed biomechanical assessment and put you on a treatment program aimed at returning you to normal alignment and pain-free function.
Once you are aligned... function is improved, pain is alleviated, and performance is enhanced.
This treatment program will include:
1. stretching of the tight muscles that pull your joints out of alignment
2. strengthening of the weak muscles that allow your joints to be pulled out of alignment
3. posture re-education which will include tips on how to check your standing and sitting posture throughout the day
4. education in self-correction of your posture during all of your daily activities and exercise routines
5. ergonomic assessments of your work station and car to make sure that they allow you to maintain good biomechanical alignment
6. assessment for and application of external support such as orthotics, braces, or tape that may help maintain normal alignment