Postural Strain Patterns

First identified by Czech Neuroligist, Dr. Vladimir Janda, the concept of postural strain patterns involves the analysis of posture to identify muscles that are imbalanced. He created two categories of muscles involved with postural imbalance, Postural or Phasic.

Postural muscles react to stress by becoming hypertonic, holding themselves in a shortened position in relation to a normal muscle length. These muscles will pull the body’s posture out of its natural alignment.

Phasic muscles react to stress by becoming weak and elongated in relation to a normal muscle length. These are usually direct antagonist muscles to posturally strained muscles.

In his book, Anatomy Trains, Tom Myers refers to postural strain as “locked short” and phasic as “locked long.” I prefer to use these terms over postural and phasic, because they are easier to describe to clients.

Common Upper Body Locked-ShortCommon Lower Body Locked Short
Pectoralis MajorPsoas
Pectoralis MinorIliacus
Latissimus DorsiRectus Femoris
SubscapularisTensor Fascia Latae
Anterior DeltoidAdductors
Biceps BrachiiQuadratus Lumborum
Just knowing this can make you more effective

How to Remember?

Many muscles have a typical strain pattern, and knowing these can drastically improve the results of your bodywork. One way is to memorize the muscle strain patterns individually, but one simple tip is to think of this: When under stress, the body wants to curl up into a fetal ball.

This is likely a programmed genetic response in us, where we curl inward to protect the vital organs of our torso that are not protected by bone.

Thinking this way, we can easily remember that the muscles that elevate and round the shoulders and flex the hips are likely to be tight.

What’s Happening In The Muscles?

An interesting note is that a chronically shortened muscle has in fact lost sarcomeres (muscle contractile units), while a lengthened muscle has gained sarcomeres. This occurs in order to keep an optimal overlap of the actin an myosin contractile proteins in the muscle (optimal cross-bridge binding).


Postural Assessment Guidelines

When performing a postural assessment, it is recommended that you start with the hips, as core imbalances will propagate up and down the body. Have the client stand in a relaxed posture with feet shoulder-width apart without shoes. It is sometimes helpful to have the client close their eyes and march in place a few times and then stand naturally.