When I meet a new client at BodyFix Method™, we usually begin with a brief conversation about why they have come to us. While nearly all of our clients are motivated by some degree of pain, many make their way to us because they realize that they have poor posture. Clients have noticed that the way they sit and stand is either lopsided, slouchy, or both.
Sometimes, they are pushed to seek assistance because it’s a mystery as to why they can’t stand up “straight,” and they have realized that their posture won’t get better on its own. They are responding to a visual cue that something is off and want to correct their posture so that they can feel better and more confident. More often than not, they are not thinking about how they move, stand, or sit and how those movements may be altered by their poor posture. They are thinking about how they look, not how they move.
Posture vs. Alignment: What’s the difference?
Posture is relevant to the work we do at BodyFix, but the heart of good posture is good alignment. Many of us don’t recognize the distinction between these two familiar terms, which although related, are definitely not the same. While posture is how you look, alignment is how you move. Posture is the way your joints are positioned, but alignment is how muscles make those joints operate mechanically. Good alignment will enable good posture, but good posture does NOT necessarily mean you have good alignment.
How We Assess Alignment
An alignment therapist can make an educated guess about the source of a client’s pain based on their posture. However, they won’t get a complete picture until the therapist can watch the client move. During a client’s first session at BodyFix, we take a set of four standing photos; front, back, right and left profile. These photos are taken with minimal clothing (shorts and a tank top) and with the client standing against a gridded backdrop.
The photos are a tool for assessing a client’s posture. We look for a misalignment of joints and asymmetries in their overall body position. For example, if there is one knee that turns inward while the foot is turned out, a shoulder that wings off of the back, or a hiked hip.
This static visual information provides the therapist with essential clues about the client’s movement patterns. It is actually those movement patterns that have affected the client’s posture. Both their posture and alignment are responsible for their chronic pain. For example, if I meet a client for the first time and their photos show that the client’s right hip and shoulder are rotating more forward than the left hip and shoulder, I will keep that in mind when I watch them walk. Why? Because that rotation will impact not only one’s walking, but also any daily movement that requires a stable, not permanently rotated base.
More often than not, right side rotation will express itself in a gait (walking) imbalance. It is common for a right rotated person to experience so much tightness on the right side that their left side fails to walk in coordination with the right side. They lose bilateral function. This usually leads to pain or instability on the left side. The results? Lower back pain on the left side or a lack of control in the left shoulder. A postural imbalance gives the therapist a first look at the client’s habits. With movement, the muscles and the joints working, will usually provide a full story.
Our Bodies are Complex Machines
Another way of looking at alignment compared to posture is to think of a car in a garage vs. on the road. You may not be able to perceive problem just by looking under the hood. A test drive sheds more light on whether the car is operating properly. There can be moments in the drive that are smooth and steady. Others may suggest alignment issues. Perhaps there is a distinct grinding sensation when accelerating that isn’t as apparent when the car is idling or, a real difficulty steering the car in the right lane.
To be clear, the car analogy is an over-simplification. Human bodies are living tissue that can adapt to a variety of movement patterns. Unlike a car, not all misalignments lead to pain (or in the car’s example, a breakdown or car accident).
The Road To True Alignment
For many clients, their walking pattern (gait) doesn’t expose all their mechanics and other diagnostic tools are needed. Cat/cow is a great way to see if a client’s pelvis can move properly. Standing on one leg or lifting one thigh at a time will demonstrate hip stability or instability. A simple bridge exercise will help a therapist see if the left buttock muscles out-perform the right side. Just as it would be wise to take a car through different streets, highways, and roads, a therapist would want to observe the client in a series of movement diagnostics before they begin treatment.
What we do know is that our posture is a result of our alignment, and our movement patterns will tell the tale. If you’re curious about your posture or your alignment, schedule an evaluation at BodyFix Method™. Along with some postural photos and a series of functional movements, you will learn more about your movement patterns and how you can eliminate chronic pain by restoring your alignment. You will also correct your posture and look better at the same time!