Gravity’s Effect on Posture and Strengthening the Antigravity Muscles
This article about gravity’s effect on posture and the antigravity muscles was written by Anne Duffy at Duffy & Bracken Physical Therapy, a Division of Maiden Lane Medical
Gravity. It’s a force that impacts every activity a person does throughout their daily lives. It makes a difference when people walk, sit and even exercise. Gravity is responsible for keeping us down and holding us on the surface of the earth – otherwise we’d fall right off! But not only is this force what keeps us here, it can also change the way that our bodies function, with both the presence and the absence of it. One shining example of the way that gravity can impact a person’s bodily function is taking a look at astronauts, and what their bodies are capable of before and after spending time in space. While in the realm of zero gravity, astronauts experience changes in the way that their bodies function, and upon a return to Earth, strengthening and conditioning are necessary to return the body to pre-trip status. While people may not feel different, the moment that they attempt activities or even something as simple as walking, changes will be apparent.
Though not every person will get to experience a change as significant as spending time in space, it’s important to consider the effects of regular gravity on the human body, and what you can do to keep it from changing the way that you behave – or are forced to respond – on a daily basis.
Gravity and Posture: How They Go Together
Gravity is constantly pushing us down, but luckily we have antigravity muscles throughout our bodies. The job of these muscles is to support our bones and joints in order to maintain their alignment against this constant force. Coming up with the name for these muscles was simple for Dr. Richardson, as it is an exact description of their function.
The common term for this group of muscles is our “core”, but did you know that our core muscles (or deep antigravity muscles) actually start down in the feet, include the triceps, and go all the way up to behind our eyes? They are deep muscles, that need to be strong throughout the body to maintain proper joint alignment. That is why posture is so important. Maintaining and strengthening these antigravity muscles prevents musculoskeletal pain and injury, improves balance and makes us more powerful in sports and throughout all our other day to day activities.
Our antigravity muscles develop early as soon as we start to move – from a newborn, only capable of kicking and rolling or rocking and kneeling, to crawling and sitting and eventually walking. Initially, we fall down, but as we strengthen and learn, we become quite proficient with our movement through gravity’s force. Eventually, people develop beautiful alignment and posture and are able to run, jump and tumble without any problems. Unfortunately, our need for constant movement as babies is replaced by long hours of sitting for school and work, and now even outside of work, our free time is increasingly sedentary, too. This is due to technology and other options like take out meals and online shopping. Even social media has added to the deterioration of these muscles, because we can connect with friends and family from the comfort of our home, which requires little or no physical effort.
The more sitting we do, the more our antigravity muscles atrophy, and the result is a deteriorating relationship with gravity as we lose our sensitivity to its force. Coupled with deteriorating joints throughout the body, this can spell long term trouble when it comes to your posture. This also means that we lose the ability of these anti-gravity muscles to support us, changing the alignment of the head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and feet. So, when running or jumping or walking or even turning in gravity without being sensitive to its force, the risk of hurting yourself increases… and the likelihood of poor posture does, too.
To combat this negative change, we need to recharge our antigravity muscle system daily, similar to the way people charge their cell phones. Most people want to have good posture and the ability to stay active but need help. Physical therapists provide this help in a structured, safe environment in a variety of ways.
- They are the experts in the musculoskeletal system
- They can mobilize stiff joints
- They can loosen stiff muscles and re-educate the movement of these muscles.
- They specialize in teaching you exercises to develop these muscles
- They improve flexibility and stability, get rid of pain, prevent future problems and make you look and feel better by improving your alignment and posture.
This all may sound a little miraculous, right? Well it is… but it’s also true!
The best physical therapy networks will have skilled physical therapists (PTs) that are able to help you. In addition, they can offer two cutting edge tools specifically designed to strengthen the antigravity muscles – Gravity Fit and Gravity Training System (GTS). These GravityFit tools, along with corrective exercises provide the ability to align patients with the force of gravity to improve posture and strengthen core muscles as discussed above.
Gravity Fit, was developed by Dr. Carolyn Richardson as a result of her work with NASA and the European Space Agency. Her focus was helping astronauts overcome the problems of atrophying muscles while outside the earth’s gravity fields, which can cause them great pain in most of their joints. This is a whole-body system that is designed to engage and strengthen this muscle group by improving core stability over time. It’s not just about using devices like posture braces or posture improvement clothing, it’s also reliant on participants taking part in exercise programs, changing their habits and focusing on the overall way that the body moves and feels.
Gravity Fit programs turn on the antigravity muscles needed to maintain this relationship and combat the adverse forces of all that sitting – and general inactivity.
Postural Exercises Combat These Negative Effects
Since everyone’s bodies are different, that means that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. In order to ensure that exercises and changes are made properly, it’s recommended to seek out the services and guidance of professional physical therapists. Not only will this limit the likelihood of doing additional damage to your body by taking part in unwise exercise programs, it can help patients focus their attention on the areas that need it the most. One thing to remember, though, is that progress doesn’t only need to be made in a physical therapy clinic; after correct techniques are learned, they can be practiced whenever possible. There are key things that you can focus on, and one of the most important is to make sure that your posture is strong. Due to our sedentary lifestyles (as discussed above) many of us already have poor posture which leads to all sorts of complications and problems that won’t be corrected if they are only addressed during PT appointments. The following are a few courses of action to consider even when you’re simply thinking about your core muscle group at home.
Sitting or standing correctly against a wall will demonstrate what it “feels” like to stand and sit up straight. Many people will say it “feels” strange or wrong because your muscle memory has learned that slumping forward is the new straight. “Feeling” and re-learning normal posture and alignment is the key, but it can take time to “reteach” our bodies. Unfortunately, re-learning posture is more complicated than a stretch.
To start this exercise, sit or stand against a wall (preferably with bare feet) with your thoracic spine (mid back – shoulder blade area) against the wall. Your head should be against the wall,but if this causes you to look up or down – or if you are unable to get your head to the wall, then place a folded towel behind your head. Your buttocks should touch the wall, and there will be space behind your lower back, too. This inward curve is the lumbar (low back) lordosis and should be curved-in when you sit or stand. If you are standing, then your legs should be slightly bent with your feet 4-5 inches away from the wall. If you are sitting, then your hips and knees should be bent to approximately 90 degrees (not less).
After you are in the starting position, then push your thoracic spine into the wall while keeping your shoulders back against the wall. You should be pushing the top of your head up toward the sky,(against gravity), while looking straight ahead. Push the middle of your back into the wall in this position without letting your shoulder blades come away from the wall. This will turn on your thoracic (mid-spine) core by facilitating the serratus anterior muscle, the key epicenter of your antigravity system. Now, breathe!
This exercise will take practice and repetition to learn, and it may take time – like with all good things – to show results. Be patient, as it typically takes a long time to lose your posture and may take a similar length of time to get it back. If you want to get it right and make sure that you get effective results, get help from a PT trained in GravityFit, like the ones available through Duffy and Bracken Physical Therapy at Maiden Lane Medical.
For those simply looking for a conveniently located physical therapy provider or a clinic near them, the BetterPT Clinic Locator tool or the BetterPT app are great options and can put you into contact with qualified and capable physical therapy professionals with just a few keystrokes. Since physical therapy doesn’t need a primary care physician’s referral in many cases, if you feel that your posture is in need of improvement, don’t hesitate to reach out today!
Ann Duffy, M.A., P.T., founder of Duffy & Bracken Physical Therapy, received her Bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy from Ithaca College. She has been a physical therapist for 36 years. In 1995 she decided to become a Women’s Health specialist to treat incontinence and pelvic pain becoming one of NYC’s first pelvic floor physical therapists and remains one of the few specialists in this area. This work combines her skills in manual therapy and exercise techniques with biofeedback and behavioral re-education and has been highly successful in helping patients overcome incontinence and pelvic pain. Ann added Carolyn Richardson’s work through GravityFit in 2015 to her practice and has seen outstanding results both professionally and personally.