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Assessing Postural Imbalances

Good posture helps support our bodies; it keeps muscles and joints healthy and does not add unnecessary loads which leads to less back and neck pain.

Once your posture becomes poor it can add strain onto your muscles in your back and neck, over time this can lead to a shortening of certain muscle groups, causing tight and painful muscles, a restricting in circulation, increased strain on the joints in the spine and can lead to headaches, fatigue and possibly nerve pain.

Book an Appointment at Osteon with one of our team of therapists. We'll give you a full postural assessment. We'll look at how you're standing and sitting, and we'll assess your movements and look at how your body is distributing weight. We look at the areas of pain and discomfort and identify why this is happening and more importantly how we can rectify it and get you back to full health, whether that be from osteopathic treatment, to rehabilitation with our physiotherapists.

Seeing lots of patients at Osteon, we have noticed that cyclists and motorcyclists are at risk from developing postural pain due to their sitting and riding positions, so here are some helpful pointers.

Pointers on posture for cyclists and motorcycle users

At Osteon our osteopaths and physiotherapists are often asked for advice on posture, usually meaning posture to adopt when standing or at a desk, but also for specialist postures, such as those used when riding a motorcycle.

Surprisingly, given how sedentary most of us are, the human body has evolved for action; for hundreds of thousands of years our ancestors spent most of their existence being very active - mostly chasing down prey or avoiding becoming prey, usually involving a lot of running and throwing things, and yet our modern lives generally consist of lots of being still.

Even though riding a motorbike or bike is not exactly still, relatively speaking the body itself is; the hands are gripping, usually too tightly, the shoulders and upper back are often stiff, even while moving. Worse, the biker’s lower back is often slumped and fixed into position putting strain on the discs; this then causes the head, especially on sports bikes, to be held backwards to compensate which puts strain on the spinal facet joints at the back of the neck.

In the short term this can mean that our muscles and joints, whose health thrives on dynamic movement, slowly get more and more uncomfortable and unhealthy. For some this can just mean aching muscles and joints after a long ride; sore wrists, an aching back or neck. In more severe cases (and this usually means just more years of adopting the same poor habits) this can lead to RSI, headaches, disc herniation or sciatica among others, none of which are pleasant and all of which are avoidable. There are many pieces of advice I can give, but the simplest usually boil down to the following:

Don't grip the grips

Universal; bikers grip the handlebars too tight.

The muscles of the forearm, which control the hands, are long and stringy; some of the muscles that control the fingers attach above the elbow and are as thin as a pen. They were designed in an age where their use was to fling spears at unsuspecting woolly mammoths. That whip like action they are very good at, tightly gripping for hour on end, not so much.

The downside of this grip is tight and uncomfortable muscles in the hands and forearms, therefore tight arms and shoulders, therefore a restricted and uncomfortable upper back and neck.

Pay attention to how tightly you grip the bars, then try and see how lightly you can. It is extraordinary how much you can release your grip and still maintain perfect control - in many ways better control, because now movement is fluid and light instead of being tight and rigid so control of the bike will be more innate and your reactions more natural as a result. Obviously there's a drop off in control if you relax the hands completely!

Keep your bottom, back

Again, lumbar (or lower back) aches and pains are so common among bikers as to be almost a truism, yet the number of bikers I see slumped on the seat is almost as common. The spine should ideally have four curves: the bottom curves out (a 'kyphosis') the lower back curves in (a 'lordosis') and the upper back curves out again and the neck curves back in; this is the ideal for good spinal health and load transfer. What happens when we slump forward is we end up instead with two curves – one long one from the backside to the neck, usually topped by an exaggerated neck curve.

Obviously different classes of bike will exaggerate this to different degrees, a sports bike more so than a supermoto for instance. This forward curved lumbar spine is exactly what causes disc pain and, in a worst case scenario, herniation and sciatica. This is best avoided.

One simple way to offset this strain is to shift your bum back in the seat a little, and concentrate on letting the pelvis rock forward. This will make it a little easier to keep that nice, inward spinal curve that nature intended.

Finally - the most comfortable position is... the next one

We can't emphasize this enough – whether on a bike or at a desk or even asleep in bed, any comfortable position will become uncomfortable after a while and the body needs to move to another comfortable position. Joints thrive on movement; it allows proper blood flow and therefore nutrient supply and also stops the collagen fibres of the ligaments and joint capsules from tightening up and restricting mobility. When we stay locked in a position until it becomes uncomfortable then that discomfort is a sign that low-level trauma is already happening, and the discomfort is a signal to move. When we are asleep we don't have the commander in chief of the brain overruling instinct, we just roll over. When we are riding head down and adrenaline filled at 90 mph down the M4, we overrule the discomfort a little too long, and over time this can build up and cause problems.

Personally I try and stop every 45 minutes to an hour or so and at least just walk around the bike to relax the muscles and get the joints moving, a few gentle stretches will help too. However, while on the bike, at least sit up and gently flex and twist the lower back for a few minutes every now and then, ideally doing this regularly before rather than when things start to ache. That way you'll help avoid the pain in the first place.

Most of all look after yourselves; there are enough dangers to our health on the road as it is without adding to it ourselves.

For more information please call us on 020 7043 6025 or click here to request a callback