Last Updated on January 31, 2023 by Andre Panagos M.D.
The health of your spine is not independent of posture. In today’s more cerebral society, most of us are employed for our brains and not our brawn. Unfortunately, most of these jobs come with the tragedy of a computer, desk and a chair. And so, we go to work and sit, and sit, then we go home and sit some more. You probably sit more than 10 hours every day. Not only is it impossible to have good posture while sitting for a prolonged period of time, but sitting also puts added pressure on your spinal discs, ligaments and nerves, which contribute to further wear-and-tear.
Why is good posture so important?
Good posture contributes to a range of health benefits. Good sitting and standing posture entails keeping your spine in optimal alignment with your ears over the shoulders and shoulders over your hips. When the bones of your spine are aligned properly, the weight of your head and torso are evenly distributed through the vertebral bones and discs which decreases their risk of injury. Also the small and large muscles that support your spine are relaxed and ready to fire when you need to move. When you sit, you muscles constantly work hard and eventually fatigue, which research has demonstrated increases your risk of a back injury and chronic back pain.
What can I do to improve my posture?
You can improve your posture and decrease your risk of back pain and injury by doing some very simple activities.
- Imagery. Think of a straight line passing through your body from the ceiling to the floor (your ears, shoulders, hips and knees should line up vertically). Now imagine that a strong cord attached to your breastbone is pulling your chest and rib cage upward, making you taller. Try to hold your pelvis level and don’t allow the lower back to sway. Think of stretching your head toward the ceiling, increasing the space between your rib cage and pelvis. Picture yourself as a ballerina or ice skater rather than a soldier at attention.
- Shoulder blade squeeze. Sit up straight in a chair with your hands resting on your thighs. Keep your shoulders down and your chin level. Slowly draw your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count of five then relax. Repeat five times.
- Upper-body stretch. Stand facing a corner with your arms raised, hands flat against the walls, elbows at shoulder height. Place one foot ahead of the other. Bending your forward knee, exhale as you lean your body toward the corner. Keep your back straight and your chest and head up. You should feel a stretch across the front of your chest. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Relax and repeat five times.
- Arm-across-chest stretch. Raise your right arm to shoulder level in front of you and bend the arm at the elbow, keeping the forearm parallel to the floor. Grasp the right elbow with your left hand and gently pull it across your chest so that you feel a stretch in the right upper arm and shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds then relax both arms. Repeat on the other side. Repeat five times on each side.
I do not have a lot of time to do exercise, what else can I do?
Trade in your standard sitting desk for an adjustable height standing desk. This gives you the opportunity to stand at your desk and increase your mobility during the day. Remember to break up your standing with periodic sitting breaks for lunch or meetings. If you have to sit at your desk, you can improve your comfort, work performance and reduce your risk of musculoskeletal injury with frequent 1-2 minute micro-breaks every 20-30 minutes or a 5 minute break every hour. Remember you cannot sit or stand all day long, so remember to take breaks throughout the day. The goal is to keep your muscles active as research has shown that prolonged sitting causes your muscles to lose their coordination and in severe cases can shut down the muscles all together. By keeping your muscles active throughout the day they are ready to support your activities and they also allow you to burn more calories keeping your weight under control as well.
Will poor posture during certain activities increase my risk of injury?
Activities that may result in injury when done with poor posture include weight training, carrying a heavy item or bag, which some have called, “poshitis”; using your mobile phone with your head hanging forward referred to as “text neck”; sitting with your legs crossed or slouching in your chair; and cradling the phone between your head and shoulder. It is important to think about your posture when doing these activities repeatedly or think of other ways to accomplish the task without using poor biomechanics such as a taking frequent breaks, using a standing desk mentioned previously or by asking for assistance.
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“New Releases.” 4 Ways to Turn Good Posture into Less Back Pain. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/4-ways-to-turn-good-posture-into-less-back-pain>.
“Pilates and Back Pain – Part 1.” Experience Pilates. 21 May 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <https://experiencepilates.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/pilates-and-back-pain-part-1/>.