Posture is something I regularly deal with and a large proportion of those with issues come from the office environment. Our life has become more sedentary and with the common goal of 1 hour exercise a day, many BJJ practitioners continue to re-enforce this posture in their training (depending on the style of BJJ they employ).
Posture refers to sustained positions in which we hold our body, usually sitting or standing. This office posture is eerily family to many positions we employ in BJJ.
Spending 8+ hours a day in this position can take its toll due to creep of ligaments (prolonged stretch) and shortening/lengthening of muscles. “Creep” is a term used to describe the stretching of ligaments when a tensile stress is placed on them for a sustained period of time. If there is discomfort in your back from sitting then you either have tissue damage, or a highly sensitised back or both. Determining which positions trigger the pain is key for reducing pain sensitivity. Normally the low back is very adept at flexion based movements, however if sitting at the computer for a period of time starts to become painful it is then called a flexion intolerant back.
Although there are postural muscles that are meant to hold us up-right such as the erector spinae muscles, when the body is held in sustained lumbar flexion these important muscles become de-activated and the stress becomes placed on the ligaments and discs rather than the muscles. It is these discs and ligaments which often become sensitised and are the pain generators. Interestingly, just 20 minutes of a sustained poor posture has been shown to be enough to decrease the postural muscle activity by 50% and increase joint laxity (1). 2 minutes after sitting up from prolonged flexion will only result in approximately half of the original spinal stiffness to be regained (9). to In some cases can take the body up to 7 hours to fully recover which means there is a large window of time for an increased risk of injury (1).
The common pattern I see in many BJJ athletes (particularly guard players) is the forward head posture, increased thoracic kyphosis, rolled shoulders and lack of hip extension. Respectively this is due often to shortened scalenes, SCM, pecs and hip flexor muscles. Chronic neck pain, headaches, lower back pain and a lack of hip mobility are associated consequences of these factors.
Interestingly it has been shown that just a small amount of neck flexion is associated with a considerable decrease in motor output that consequently negatively affects strength and endurance (11)(12). This also helps explain why rolling with people who crank the neck feels so much more difficult, it is because the position they put your neck in literally makes you weaker. It also helps explain another reason why maintaining a healthy natural posture is important for strength.
Another reason posture is important because the mechanoreceptors of the ligaments, muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs need to be at the right tension in order to provide accurate information to the brain about where the body is in space. If posture is excessively imbalanced, then the resting tension of these proprioceptors can result in the signals misfiring and the brain consequently misinterprets accurate spacial awareness. This can lead to problems with balance, coordination and injury.
It is difficult if not impossible to quantify a perfect posture; different body types will naturally have a different range of what is “normal”. It however does make complete sense to aim to be relatively well aligned and symmetrical. It also makes sense to regularly change positions to avoid ligamentous creep and prolonged muscle loading (McGill 2001). For sitting in particular, a good saying is, "The ideal sitting posture is one that continually changes".
There is a growing body of research that consistently demonstrates benefits for reducing pain and improving functionality by using postural re-education. There are many methods that can be used for postural re-education, some of which include awareness, soft tissue release techniques, stretching, strengthening and joint manipulation.
With all this in mind it makes sense to take a good look at postures of the BJJ community due to the higher exposure to posture compromising positions. There are significant benefits to be had across the BJJ community by improving posture, whether it be for reduced pain or improved overall function.
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