Bad posture doesn’t just affect how you look, it can also lead to back pain.
The better your posture is, the stronger and more comfortable you’ll feel standing in line at the supermarket, lifting heavy boxes or sitting at your desk. Attaining great posture goes beyond staving off a slouch (although that’s part of it). It’s about achieving the correct body alignment for minimising strain and tightness and moving more efficiently.
Poor posture isn’t necessarily a bad habit, either. Physical reasons for poor posture include:
- Inflexible muscles that decrease range of motion (how far a joint can move in any direction). For example, overly tight, shortened hip muscles tug your upper body forward and disrupt your posture. Overly tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward.
- Muscle strength affects balance in a number of ways. The “core muscles” of the back, side, pelvis, and buttocks form a sturdy central link between your upper and lower body. Weak core muscles encourage slumping, which tips your body forward and thus off balance. Strong lower leg muscles also help keep you steady when standing.
The payoff to proper posture? Less pain in your neck, shoulders and back – vulnerable spots that can bear the brunt of poor alignment. Good posture also helps strengthen weak muscles, which will reduce the possibility of harm from overuse or strenuous activity. Less obvious benefits include better breathing (an upright torso allows your diaphragm to open fully) and a boost in confidence (holding yourself a little taller can promote self-assurance).
Since poor posture leads to extraneous wear and tear on your joints and soft tissue, the first step to banishing bad posture is sizing up which of your daily habits are problematic. Awareness of your positions helps you correct them. To that end, follow this guide for perfecting postures linked to everyday activities.
Prolonged sitting, especially when you slouch or crane forwards, can strain muscles and ligaments in your back and put pressure on your spine. Choose a chair that allows you to get close to your desk while sitting upright with shoulders aligned over hips. Properly positioning the chair and desk might mean removing the chair’s armrests.
Next, your arms should be bent to 90 degrees and your shoulders relaxed when your hands are on the keyboard. The chair’s lumbar support should fit comfortably against your lower back, just above your waistband. Adjust the chair height so you can place your feet on the floor or a footrest with legs bent to 90 degrees. Finally, protect your neck by ensuring the top of your computer monitor is around eye level. You might have to prop it up with a stack of books or a desk accessory.
Even with good sitting posture, it’s still smart to limit chair time. Physiotherapists recommend getting up every half-hour. Walk around for at least a couple of minutes to stay active and promote the f low of blood and fluids to the spine. If standing up that frequently isn’t an option, work a quick walkaround into your schedule whenever you can – during a break between clients or while talking on the phone.
Poor posture while standing, especially in high heels, can put stress on everything from your feet to your spine. The key to good standing posture – apart from wearing f lats with support – has a lot to do with positioning the pelvis and spine to lessen that stress.
To achieve this, stand with feet hip-width apart and adjust your pelvis into a neutral position, where your tailbone is neither tilted up nor tucked under. In a neutral stance, your hip bones face directly forwards, with your tailbone pointing to the floor.
Zeroing in on the spine, there should be a slight inward curve in your lower back, a slight outward curve in your upper back and another inward curve at the neck. As for the shoulders, roll them back and down as you depress your shoulder blades towards your hips. Pull your chin back so your ears line up over your shoulders. If you were to view your standing posture from the side, you’d want to see your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders all in line.
Ideally, you should lift items with your core engaged, knees bent and head upright. Avoid bending forwards. Start with good standing posture (see above left), feet shoulder-width apart or slightly staggered. Activate your core muscles by gently drawing your abs inwards.
Next, bring yourself close to the object you want to lift or adjust its position. Squat down, bending at the hips and knees and pushing your butt out behind you as if sitting into a chair. As you lift, slowly straighten your legs, keeping the object close to your body. Position your shoulders back, head up and spine straight.
Set the seat so you can press the accelerator without constantly bending and straightening your leg – ankle movements will do. You should be able to place your feet flat on the floor just under the brake pedal without stretching for it. Sit upright with your back supported, shoulders aligned over your hips and arms slightly bent. Your hands should be either side of the wheel and the back of your head aligned with the middle of the headrest.
You should be able to see the ground four metres in front of your vehicle, so raise the seat or prop yourself up if needed, for safety and to avoid neck strain.
Road tripping? As with any type of prolonged sitting, take ‘stand breaks’ every two hours, if possible, to stretch your legs and walk around.
As the average person spends about a third of their life sleeping, bed posture is as important as standing or sitting posture. Unsurprisingly, your pillow has a lot to do with healthy sleeping posture. You need to maintain your spine’s natural curvature while lying on your back or side with your head, not shoulders, resting on the pillow.
Stacking pillows or using a flat one isn’t advised. The neck has a normal inward curve and when it’s bent out of alignment all night, waking up with a kink is a very real possibility. Select a pillow that’s the correct thickness to support your head without your neck bending sideways.
In all occasions, keep that back straight.
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