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Bad Posture or Tight Muscle? What’s the Difference?

by Jack Johnston, RMT at Discover Wellness

One of the most common things clients tell me when we first meet is that they are experiencing discomfort in their neck and shoulder and they KNOW that it’s because they have BAD posture. If they were just more mindful of how they positioned themselves in the office or while driving to work, they are confident things would be so much better. While I agree that proper static posture while seated is beneficial, if we’re all so knowledgeable in this area then why do so many of us still suffer from “posture related” neck and shoulder discomfort?

First let’s quickly breakdown posture and tight muscles before we dive into this too deep.

Posture is more then just a snapshot of you at your worst hunched over your computer desk working away on an assignment. Posture is dynamic and always changing.

When we talk of muscle tone, we are often referring to the tissue quality of the muscle in question. This is also able to change over time, depending on the movements we perform regularly. Too many of the same movements can result in muscle tissue with too much tone or tightness. To a massage therapist, the muscle in question will feel stiff compared to an adequately toned muscle that is often described as loose or supple.

What we often refer to as “bad posture” may be a change in tissue quality around a joint that has yet to cause the individual pain or discomfort. However, what the “bad posture” label fails to identify is the need to address the poor tissue quality before the joint can once again have “good posture”.

SO.. how can you tell when somebody has an issue with tissue quality?

When patients are lying on the massage table, a good indication of tissue quality is the positioning of the shoulder joint itself.

Figure 1: (Left) Shoulder sitting forward (noticed how it is raised off the table). (Right) Patient with optimal balance between front and back shoulder muscles (notice how the shoulder is almost completely resting on the table)

What do I do to help address this issue?

In my experience, patients that present with rounded shoulders are dealing with overly tight internal rotator muscles. These include your pecs, lats and subscap. From here on out to I’ll simply refer to them as the Big 3.

Figure 2: Big 3 Internal Rotators of the Shoulder

To address this, I spend a lot of time reaching in patients’ armpits (yes, you have muscles in your armpit, in fact, these are very important muscles if this applies to you!) to help address the tissue quality, or, abundance of tone, likely present in The Big Three. This helps patients’ shoulders sit back in a more neutral position naturally without any effort to “pinch the shoulder blades” together.

What good is knowing about good posture if poor tissue quality in your shoulders are limiting you from implementing all the wonderful knowledge you have about good positioning?

Does this sound like something that could benefit you? Want to book in with one of our talented therapists? Do you completely disagree? Did you feel bogged down by all the science jargon? Either way, we’d love to hear from you at