A Head's Up on Posture: Don't Be a Slouch!
Proper posture can help reduce the risk for neck and back pain
When I was a child, my grandmother was constantly after me saying, "Sit up straight! Don't slump in the chair! Walk tall!" At just about every family gathering, I could count on Grandma giving me a lecture about posture. The message was the same even as I got older. In my teenage years the reminders became a source of embarrassment and sometimes I would actually try to hide to escape her persistent pestering!
Well, now I'm an adult with children of my own. Often, while observing my youngest, the faint stirrings of Grandma's voice resound in my head. I'm actually surprised to hear my own voice echoing her very words to this child!
How Poor Posture Happens
Poor posture is easy, whereas adapting habits of good posture often requires conscious effort. Most people do not think about their posture until someone brings it to their attention. The benefits of good posture far outweigh poor posture.
You could say that poor posture habits have followed trends in society. Children carry heavy backpacks, adults lug briefcases and bags to work, and many people spend hours hunched over a computer screen at work or at home. Poor posture is not only a bad habit, but it can lead to back pain and neck pain.
Change takes willpower. However, the rewards of good posture are well worth the effort. You will feel great, and you will look taller and appear more confident!
What Does Good Posture Look Like?
The body is straight, but not robotic. Good posture looks something like this: The ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles align in a straight line. If you hung an imaginary plumb line from the earlobe, the line would hang straight through the middle of the anklebone.
Good posture means there is musculoskeletal balance. This balance helps to protect the joints in the spine from excessive stress. Good posture also guards against injury and possible deformity, and it can even help prevent back pain and neck pain. The yoga roll picture below demonstrates good posture.
Starting Your Day
- Stand up and stretch your arms above your head! The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) suggests, "Do the 'hug your best friend.' Wrap your arms around your body and twist to the left, then to the right."
- Exercise regularly to keep the abdominal muscles strong—strong abs help support the spine.
- Avoid wearing high heels. Choose shoes that are comfrtable and that offer good foot support.
- Look at yourself in the mirror. Is your posture good? Think about your posture and how to maintain it throughout your everyday activities.
Purses, Backpacks, and Briefcases
Carry only the essential items that are required for your day.
Avoid wearing a heavy purse or bag over one shoulder. This can place too much weight on one side of the body and can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain. Instead, use a bag or briefcase with a single strap, make sure the strap is padded and wide. The ACA suggests wearing a strap that is long enough to place over the head resting on the opposite side of the bag or briefcase. This can help to distribute the weight more evenly.
Some children carry almost as much weight in their backpack as they weigh! A heavy backpack should not exceed 15% of your body's weight and certainly never more than 25 pounds!
Here are some backpack tips:
- Choose a backpack made of a lightweight material.
- Make sure the shoulder straps are adjustable, wide, and padded. A backpack with a waist/hip strap is preferable. Wear the backpack with both shoulder straps and hip strap.
- Pack the heavier items close to the back. Backpacks with many compartments will help you equalize and distribute the weight. Pointy objects should be packed away from your spine.
- Parents can talk to their child's teacher and arrange for a separate set of books to be kept at home, eliminating the need to haul books back and forth.
Posture-friendly Tips for Working at Your Desk
- Choose office furniture that is ergonomically designed and that fits your body.
- Sit with your back against the back of the chair with knees at hip level. Consider using a foot rest. A small pillow or rolled towel placed at the lower back can offer needed support.
- Your workstation or desk should be at elbow height. Adjust chair height to meet this need.
- Sit with your shoulders straight and parallel to the hips.
- Don't slouch or lean over your computer monitor. Either move closer to the work or move the work closer to you. Tilt the monitor so the center of the screen is at eye level for easy viewing.
- Don't cradle the phone between your head and shoulder! It is much better to use the speaker phone or hold the phone in your hand.
- Get up, walk tall, and stretch often!
Going to Sleep
A firm mattress will help keep your spine aligned! However, a few other tips to maintain great posture during sleep include:
- Don't sleep on your stomach. Sleep on your side or back.
- When lying on your back, place a pillow under your knees. This will ease low back tension.
- When lying on your side, place a pillow between slightly bent knees. This will help keep the spine straight.
- Although oversize cushy pillows are inviting, they do not benefit your spine. Instead, use a pillow that allows your head to align with the rest of your body.
What Else Can You Do to Maintain Good Posture?
Of course there are other things you can do to help establish a lifestyle that supports good posture. Your doctor and your chiropractor can give you many personalized tips to help you gain the benefits of good posture.
In this article by Dr. Maurer, there is a specific emphasis upon the need for good posture. Posture implies strength and self-confidence, but it also implies the concept of musculoskeletal or sagittal balance. Since gravity and time are two unavoidable forces, we must use good posture to resist them. An individual with good posture will balance the forces on the spine more equally, thereby hopefully limiting degeneration. This article is not only informative in terms of basic information, but it also gives specific tips as to lifestyle changes to obtain better posture.—Brian R. Subach, MD