Surprising fact: The pain we feel in our back and shoulders might actually come from misalignment in our hips/pelvis or our feet. When one area of our body is out alignment, it can take the rest of the body with it.
What is Alignment?
Alignment refers to how the head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles relate and line up with each other. Proper alignment of the body puts less stress on the spine and helps you have good posture. Maintaining good posture helps keep you in alignment. It’s a pretty important cycle kept in line by a pretty important chain.
That chain can begin anywhere but once it gets a broken link, everything is impacted. Take the image above as an example. When you’re properly aligned, your spine will look like the image on your right. But when one piece of the puzzle that is your skeletal system get put in the wrong place, the picture does not look good…in fact, it looks like the image on the left.
How Misalignment Happens
Unfortunately, misalignment can start small.
Overpronation: The foot in the image is over pronated—rolling too far inward. Some pronation (not to be confused with over-supination) is normal but when it’s excessive it can cause any number of problems from foot pain to misalignment of the entire body.
Twisted Knee: To support the weight now being put on the inside of the foot, the knee starts to turn inward, creating excessive torque and strain on the knee.
Rotated pelvis: To try to keep the knee from twisting, the pelvis follows the knee, rotating inward and pulling the lower back with it. The lower back is connected to the spine which then twists unnaturally taking the shoulders and neck with it.
Phew, that’s a lot of twisting where there shouldn’t be any. The image shows just how big of an impact the misalignment of one part of the body can have on the rest of the body. If you have pain in any of these areas, poor alignment could be to blame.
But wait, there’s more.
The image shows the impact of misalignment on our skeletal structure but doesn’t take into account muscles, ligaments, and cartilage (oh my!).
These important parts of the body help stabilize you, keep you moving, and prevent injuries. Your muscles typically work to move and support the different parts of your body.
In a properly aligned body, muscle distribution is fairly even (though everyone has asymmetry!). In a misaligned body, muscles adapt to support the stress being put on different parts of your body. The result is that some muscles work overtime, while others don’t work hard enough.
These imbalances create a vicious cycle of misalignment that can be treated with the help of insoles, but ultimately require stretching and strengthening exercises to be fully rehabilitated.
Another way this kind of imbalance occurs is when you favor one side of your body say when you constantly stick out a hip when standing and shift all your weight to the left side of your body) over another.
This means that even when you treat your alignment issue, the muscles in our hip flexors or glutes could still push or pull too much in one direction.
So, what’s the big deal?
Why Does Body Alignment Matter?
Poor Alignment and Posture can lead to a number of issues:
- Decreased mobility
- Reduced range of motion
- and more
Spinal alignment doesn’t just cause sore muscles or painful symptoms, it can also impact your overall health. Those with misalignment of the spine might experience:
- Frequent illnesses
- Digestion issues
- Respiratory issues
- A slower metabolism
- Interrupted sleep
Given all the problems it can cause, it’s in your best interest to keep your spine in line. There are a number of ways to find out if you’re out of alignment and once you know for sure, you can start taking steps to straighten up and fly right.
Rebuild Your Foundation
If you’re severely out of alignment, there’s no sugarcoating it: you’ll need to rebuild your foundation. That might mean visits to the chiropractor. It will most likely mean wearing a supportive insole for a little while.
And it definitely means focused stretching and strengthening exercises to get back in alignment. In particular, unilateral exercises that focus on each half of your body independently are helpful.
This is one of the reasons we talk about yoga so much on this blog.
A regular Yoga practice is a great way to stretch, build strength and improve alignment. Because most practices require focusing on one side at a time (unilateral work), holding for a specific amount of time (strengthening) and extending into the pose (stretching), it’s a super powerful tool to have in your toolkit.
But, before you get started, you need to make sure you’re starting with a good base. Doing the poses wrong or starting from a place of instability could hinder more than help your alignment.
Use these 7 Principles of Alignment from Yogafit to create a solid foundation for your practice. Here are just a few to get you started.
- Use the muscles of the trunk (e.g. abdominals, erector spinae) to create core stability prior to moving into and while holding poses for greater strength and internal support.
- When moving into twists, flexion, or extension, we start in neutral spine.
- In all applicable poses, the knees stay in line with ankles and point directly out over the toes. In general, the knees, when bent, will also remain in the same line as the hips. To prevent hyperextension, we keep a microbend in the knees at all times.