As a child, you were probably told to “sit up straight” and “don’t slouch” by your elders. This is because sitting hunched over can hurt your back and cause further spinal issues as you get older. Having and maintaining good posture is important for many reasons. Read on to find out how body alignment affects you and how to improve poor posture.
When asked, “What is posture?” It is essentially the alignment of your spine and how you distribute the workload on your body. When you slump over you are directing much of the weight from gravity onto your shoulders and neck. Pressure at the top of the spine presses downward and can result in herniated discs – the cushioning between the vertebrae compresses and is no longer supportive. Besides compressed discs, you may also experience decreased flexibility, breathing difficulties, poor joint mobility, indigestion, and frequent back pain.
Gravity is something that is present all the time so keeping the body in the proper alignment is very important. The upper torso carries most of the weight; it is the heaviest part of the body. When standing and sitting the force of gravity presses down on the spine. When lying down, the weight is more evenly distributed and puts less stress on the joints. Good posture means standing tall with your head straight, shoulders back, and back straight when sitting, standing, or walking. This way of carrying yourself puts less stress on the body and causes less pain.
Gravity not only applies to the body but everything in the world around us. Designers that create building plans and architects must take the law of gravity into account when designing buildings due to the weight of the structures. If the walls weaken the whole building can collapse. The same thing happens to the body. The spine is the wall that holds everything up so if it develops instability or weakness, it too can collapse due to constant stresses over a period of months, weeks, or years.
Why Good Posture is Important
Although you can’t see it when facing forward, the spine is actually curved into an “S” shape. During a physical, the doctor checks the alignment of your spine and the height of your hip bones to determine how you bear weight and how much pressure is being placed on the joints. When standing with proper posture, you should be able to trace an imaginary line from the shoulders to the hip, and to the ankle bones. When the spine is properly aligned, the weight is distributed evenly and doesn’t place too much stress on knee joints. Another reason to always stand tall and keep your back straight is for muscular flexibility. When you sit with your back rounded and your shoulders forward all the time it can decrease the flexibility of the muscles and joints. Everything becomes tight because the muscle lost its ability to stretch.
Benefits of a Good Posture
- Pain relief
- Increased airflow
- Increased energy
- Balanced mood
Poor posture is the result of a bad habit of not sitting properly. When we were young, we had to sit straight because our parents, grandparents, and teachers told us to. But as adults, it easy to ignore those admonishments and slump down in the chair when we take a break from reading or lean over our desks when writing or propping our head up with one hand while we watch TV because it is comfortable and requires less effort and muscle control.
How to Improve Poor Posture
Since bad habits attributed to our poor posture, it stands to reason that to correct it we must go back to the teaching of our parents and follow the steps. Here are some ways you can strengthen your back and improve poor posture at the same time.
1. Sit in a Straight Back Chair
Sitting in a chair with a straight back discourages slouching. Peggy Brill, a physical therapist in NYC says that headaches and shoulder pain are the results of poor posture. Breathing difficulties and stomach issues are also associated with being slumped over because it doesn’t allow the diaphragm to expand fully so you cannot take deep breaths. It cuts off airflow and leads to aches, pains, and intestinal issues. So when your grandparents said not to slouch, they were trying to show you how to improve poor posture without having to explain why.
2. Check Your Reflection
How many times a day do you pass a mirror? If you took a good look at yourself as you walked by you could see what your posture looks like. If you stand facing the mirror and look straight ahead, keeping your head level, pull your shoulders back, stick your chest out, and straighten your back you would be exhibiting correct posture. Your knees should be slightly bent and directly over your toes. This is the proper way to stand, sit, and walk to keep your spine in alignment and reduce pain and pressure on your back, shoulder, and neck muscles.
3. Gain More Flexibility
Muscle tightness and a loss of flexibility are caused by poor body alignment because the muscles cannot extend fully. When you don’t keep those muscles stretched they can shrink and become tight. This is why some older people look shorter than they used to. Get in the habit of stretching daily. Warm up for a good 15 minutes before exercising for the muscles to get a good stretch to keep their flexibility.
4. Improve Work Station Ergonomics
Our sitting habits when working have changed over the years. We tend to lean forward causing an arch in the back which begins to hurt after a while. Since you will be at your computer for extended periods of time there are ways to make sitting more comfortable while still maintaining good posture. Sit all the way back in the chair and place a small pillow under your back. Place a flat, but slightly raised surface under your feet to raise your knees. Position the monitor at arm’s length and adjust it to be at eye level to avoid straining from looking up to read.
When we talk about core strength and core muscles, we are referring to the large muscle groups that carry the workload on the body. A few exercises that are meant to improve core strength are push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, lunges, plank hold, side plank holds, and squats. Strengthening your core will increase your muscle strength, flexibility, and reduce back and neck pain.
6. Use a Proper Lifting Technique
Carrying groceries up a flight of stairs or lugging your 2-year-old around on your hip can cause back pain, neck strain, and headaches. When you lift something, always use the right technique and lift from the legs and not with your back. This is a common mistake that puts too much stress on back muscles and causes injury if you’re not careful. Here is the correct lifting technique: stand in front of the object being lifted. Place your feet shoulder’s width apart and bend the knees. Squat and use the thighs and glutes to propel you upward and take a deep breath and pull in your stomach. Never bend or twist while lifting a heavy object.
7. Correct Your Sleep Posture
You would think that sleeping and lying flat would take all the stress off your body. It does somewhat but not entirely. The body needs support while sleeping so remember to use small pillows behind your back, between the knees, and under the shoulder to keep the body in the proper alignment while you sleep. If you prefer to sleep on your side, a pillow between your knees will keep your hips straight and if you sleep on your back, place a pillow under the knees to lift them up taking pressure off your back and avoiding an unnatural arch occurring.
Avoid These Other Poor Posture Habits
- Slinging a backpack full of books over one shoulder is not the proper way to carry it. Balance the weight of the backpack by wearing it over both shoulders to reduce the weight and make it even.
- Get luggage with wheels if you travel frequently. The handles extend so you can walk and pull it along without putting any strain on your back.
- Don’t wear high heels often. They put your body out of alignment causing you to lean forward in an unnatural position. They also put more stress on the balls of the feet and cause pain in the toe area from the foot being so far forward in the shoe. Wear flats or sandals whenever possible.
So now that you know how to improve poor posture make these new habits a life-long commitment to better skeletal health. Your spine is what keeps your body up, like the example of the building, and if it weakens and crashes from years of neglect you will have a multitude of health problems that could have been avoided.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you have any questions about lower back pain or acupuncture, leave a comment below.