“Stand up straight!” “Don’t slouch!” How many times did your mother or teachers say one or both of those phrases to you when you were young? Even though it’s probably cliché, it is sage advice. Standing up straight helps your posture, which brings a wealth of health benefits along with it.
But what are the benefits, what causes bad posture, and how can we make it better?
Reasons for Poor Posture
There are many reasons why you may have poor posture. We often spend many hours seated and hunched over working on our computers and staring at our smart phones, which can wreak havoc on our posture. But poor posture isn’t always a result of bad habits. It can also be due to tight, inflexible muscles, which can force your upper body forward, or reduced muscle strength, which can disrupt the strong central line between your lower and upper body.
Why is Good Posture Important?
If you habitually slouch, and experience neck, shoulder, and/or back stiffness or pain, it is probably due to poor posture. Anytime you feel discomfort, it’s your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. Poor posture causes the muscles in your neck and back to work harder than they should, forcing your immune system to go into overdrive to heal them, leading to inflammation, then possibly long-term pain.
Good posture helps keep your bones and joints in proper alignment, allowing your muscles to work more efficiently and avoid strain, decreasing disproportional wearing of joints, and minimizing stress on the ligaments that hold together the joints in your spine.
Proper posture also supports the natural shape of your spine. A healthy back has three natural curves: your lumbar curve, the inward curve of your lower back; the thoracic curve, the outward curve of your upper back; and the cervical curve, the inward curve of your neck. Poor posture works against those natural curves, putting more stress on your bones, muscles, and ligaments.
Posture is also critical to your balance. Walking, going up or down stairs, carrying things, changing directions, and sitting down into or getting up from a chair all require good balance. Without it, you could fall and/or injure yourself doing any of these simple tasks. Good balance also helps you excel in physical activity – running, dancing, and playing sports.
Good posture supports your musculoskeletal health, protecting every system in your body. Proper posture encourages overall good health, helping you to avoid injury and lead an active lifestyle.
What is Good Posture?
When you are standing, here is how you can have proper posture:
- Keep your chin parallel to the ground.
- Stand straight, lengthen your body, and push your shoulders back.
- Keep your head and shoulders level and your neck in line with the rest of your body.
- Pull your abdomen in.
- Allow your arms to fall naturally at your sides.
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart and bear your weight on the balls of your feet.
- Relax your knees and point them forward.
- Shift your weight if you must stand for long periods of time.
To have good posture while sitting:
- Make sure the height of your chair allows you to keep your feet flat on the floor or use a footrest.
- Keep your chin parallel to the ground, your head and neck in line with your torso, and your shoulders, hips, and knees at even heights.
- Keep your knees at the same height as or lower than your hips.
- Do not cross your legs – keep both knees facing forward.
- Ensure you have lower back support and use a pillow or rolled towel if necessary.
How to Know if You are Maintaining Proper Posture
You can test your posture by following a few easy steps:
- Stand with your head, shoulder blades, and gluteal muscles touching a wall.
- Position your feet so your heels are two to four inches from the wall.
- Slide your hand into the space made between your lower back and the wall, with your palm against the wall.
If you are maintaining proper posture, your hand should fit comfortably between your back and the wall. If there is too much or too little space, arch your back until there is space equivalent to the thickness of your hand between your lower back and the wall.
Tips for Maintaining Good Posture
No matter the reasons behind your poor posture, or how severe it is, there are some simple things you can do to improve it.
- Check your posture often. To ensure proper posture, you must keep your eyes on it. Perform the wall test noted above and adjust your posture throughout the day. Monitor your posture in your reflection whenever possible.
- Focus on your workspace. When sitting at a desk working on a computer, position your keyboard so you can hold your shoulders and arms at a 90-degree angle and your monitor at eye level. Looking down or leaning puts unnecessary strain on your neck and back. Standing desks can also help your posture.
- Don’t look down at your phone. Maintain good posture while looking at your phone while standing. If you are sitting, sit upright and use armrests or a pillow to support your arms and keep your phone at eye level.
- Use caution when carrying a bag. If your bag has a single strap, put it over your head so you are bearing the weight of the bag on the opposite shoulder, and change sides frequently.
- Get moving. If you can, take a short walk once every hour you must sit. Don’t have time for a walk? Some quick neck rolls and shoulder rolls can go a long way.
- Exercise. Exercising, especially movements that focus on flexibility and core strength, is one of the best things you can do to improve your posture, back health, and overall health. Studies have shown that 20 minutes of exercise just three times a week can significantly reduce neck and back pain in as little as four weeks (1). To help improve your posture, try alternating exercises like superman poses, crunches, planks, and leg, neck, and shoulder extensions.
Maintaining good posture will take practice, and you may even feel some stiffness or soreness in the beginning. But you are trying to retrain your body, so all of that is normal. And the health benefits will make it well worth it.
At Englewood Spine Associates, our goal is to help you feel better so that you can get back to living with less pain. With over 25 years of experience providing spinal care in north Jersey, we have the expertise and resources to treat your back condition – no matter how severe. If we can help you on your journey to feel your best, please contact us today.