Posture Makes Perfect
Correcting postural misalignments helps ease chronic pain.
It was only after Marcia Herscovitz, 62, had endured repeated stress fractures, ankle sprains and several foot surgeries that she started looking for a cause of all the pain and discomfort. She turned to orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors and acupuncturists—but no one could help.
“Some approaches such as acupuncture would help ease my foot pain for a few days, but nothing worked long-term,” says Herscovitz, a gift shop manager from San Diego. “I was on heavy painkillers for another stress fracture when a friend suggested I try the Egoscue Method.” Now pain-free for more than two years, Herscovitz continues to use the program on a regular basis. “It makes a difference if I don’t do the exercises for a couple of days, so I stick with it,” she explains.
The Egoscue Method—named after Pete Egoscue, the physiologist who developed it—focuses on using exercises and stretches to correct posture and alignment, thereby easing pain. “If someone comes in with back pain, we don’t focus on that symptom,” says Tim George, clinic director of The Egoscue Method in San Diego. “We instead look at how a misaligned posture may be causing the back pain.”
Ask a person to stand with good posture and they’ll likely pull back their shoulders in an attempt to stand straighter. “But good posture is not something you should have to think about,” says George. Our modern sedentary lifestyles and desk jobs force us into unnatural, cashew-shaped positions, or as George puts it, “Our environment shapes our bodies.”
Back, neck and shoulder pain frequently occur when the body tries to compensate for weak or underused muscles. “Lower back pain is the most common complaint from new clients,” says George. “But people also come to us with symptoms ranging from vertigo, temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ (jaw pain), rotator cuff problems and neck, shoulder, knee and foot pain.” He adds that while many patients are at first skeptical as to the relationship between posture and, say, jaw pain, they often feel relief after just one session.
After a thorough postural evaluation from an Egoscue therapist, the client receives a “menu,” or series of exercises and stretches called E-cises. While the specific exercises often do not appear directly related to the pain site—for example, thigh strengtheners and/or an upper back stretch may be prescribed for lower back pain—they are based on the muscles that are currently moving improperly. Muscles that may be compensating or substituting for other muscles now return to performing their proper roles, which in turn relieves the pain.
The Egoscue therapist coaches the client through his or her personal menu. “The program requires a lot of responsibility on the part of the client,” says George. “The clients have to be willing to perform the E-cise menus regularly on their own for it to be effective.” The total time to perform the menu varies depending on the individual, but generally ranges from 20 to 60 minutes. Ideally, E-cises should be done daily, says George. The client then returns for a reevaluation weekly or every 10 days. At this point, the therapist tweaks the E-cise menu according to the client’s progress.
Exercises may be added or taken away, or more advanced versions implemented.
Chiropractors, massage therapists, personal trainers and acupuncturists often become certified in the Egoscue Method to complement their regular practices. Aspiring Egoscue therapists must complete certification through The Egoscue University, based in San Diego. To find a certified therapist, go to www.Egoscue.com or call 800-995-8434.
If you don’t live near any of the Egoscue clinics, treatment is available via photos or electronic means. “We can do evaluations through Skype, iChat or webcam videos,” says George, who works long- distance with clients in London and Hawaii. You can also get started by reading one of Pete Egoscue’s books, such as Pain Free (Bantam Books), which includes many sample E-cises.
Anyone can benefit from the Egoscue exercises, regardless of age or fitness level. According to George, you should feel a difference using the proper moves, after one session, “although it takes at least eight visits to really feel a difference.”
Since good posture creates good balance, poor posture manifests as poor balance. To test your posture, stand naturally, arms to your sides, and close you eyes. Do you sway back and forth or left to right? Is more pressure on one foot than the other or on one part of the foot more than another? Try the following exercise, called standing elbow curls, and test your balance again: Stand against a wall with toes pointed forward. Keep heels, hips, upper back and head against the wall. Place your knuckles against your temples with thumbs pointed down towards shoulders. Open your elbows until they are against the wall, then close elbows together in front of your face. Repeat 25 times.
Like Marcia Herscovitz, many people spend a lot of time, money and effort in the search for relief from chronic pain. If that describes you, the Egoscue Method may help.