In a recent infographic, we explored the extent of back and neck pain amongst America’s population. We also discussed poor posture’s contribution to this extensive problem. Many people spend between 10 and 15 hours every day sitting or standing with poor posture, and their backs and necks suffer as a result.
Below, we’ll outline poor posture’s effects on your spine in more detail. We’ll also give you tips on improving your posture so you can strengthen your body and mitigate pain today.
The Effects of Poor Posture
Poor posture has the following consequences:
- It takes your bones and joints out of proper alignment, which means your muscles move improperly. And when they move improperly, they wear in unnatural ways. This incorrect use and wear often leads to joint pain and even degenerative joint arthritis.
- It forces your muscles to work harder to perform basic tasks. Your body has to use more energy, so it tires out faster.
- It puts more stress on the ligaments holding your spine’s joints. The stress puts you at a higher risk for back injury.
- It constricts your lungs and core muscles, which means you won’t breathe or digest as efficiently. When you sit or stand straight, your lungs can pull more oxygen into your blood, boosting your body’s energy and overall health. Most people experience increased focus and memory as a result.
- It adds several visual pounds. It may not add actual pounds, but poor posture often makes you look heavier than you actually are.
- It negatively effects your balance and coordination. Your muscles need proper alignment and enough oxygen to function correctly, so poor posture could keep you from playing sports, hiking, and doing other physical activities.
Most people have poor posture because of their working environments. They have desk chairs that don’t support their back, or their career forces them to stay sedentary for most of the day. They gain weight and their core muscles weaken, so they can’t hold their spines as erect as they could previously.
The more you move and strengthen your core and back muscles, the better your posture will become, and the less back and neck pain you’ll experience.
Strategies for Improving Your Posture
If your job forces you to sit in front of a computer, work while hunched over, or otherwise compromise your posture, use the following tips to correct the way you sit or stand:
1. Consciously stand in proper alignment.
While you stand, consciously make your body do the following:
- Balance your weight on the sides, back, and front of your feet. Your feet should feel strong and firmly planted on the ground. Don’t lean your feet too far inwards or outwards, as leaning could strain your arches. Keep your ankles straight.
- Form a straight line with your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears.
- Keep your hips and shoulders level.
- Ensure your back has a small inward curve. This curve should occur naturally. Meanwhile, keep your abdomen flat, flexing your core muscles if necessary. If your stomach sticks out, your back muscles are working by themselves, which can strain them and cause pain. Strengthen your core muscles to improve your back’s curvature and reduce pain.
- Keep your head up and forward, yet consciously keep your neck from sticking forward.
2. Sit in proper alignment.
Hold your head and spine the same way you’d do while standing, but add the following as you adjust your alignment:
- Use the chair’s back for support, pressing your spine into it. If you don’t have an ergonomic chair, ask your employer to buy one or purchase one yourself. The chair should align with your back’s natural curve.
- Keep both feet flat on the floor. Don’t cross your legs.
- Keep your shoulders open and your head up. Your arms should form a 90° angle with your desk.
- Face forward as much as possible.
Some people find that sitting on an exercise ball aligns their posture correctly.
3. Get up to stretch and move at least once every half hour.
Movement prevents muscles from stiffening, and it also helps you preserve your posture. Stretch your arms, shoulders, and back, and go for a walk for a few minutes every 30 minutes.
4. Strengthen your back and core.
Exercise methods like Pilates and yoga help you strengthen your core. However, if you don’t have time to attend a class or follow a workout DVD, do some of these exercises when you wake in the morning or take breaks at work:
- Single leg extensions: Lie flat on the floor, flex your abdominal muscles, and then lift your leg at a 45° angle. If your back arches too much, lift your leg higher. Switch legs.
- Crunches: Again, lie flat on the floor and flex your abdominal muscles. Curl your head and shoulders off the floor using your abdominal muscles.
- Yoga sit-ups: Lie flat like you would with crunches, but slowly curl your head, shoulders, and spine off the floor one vertebra at a time until you’ve completely sat up.
Your chiropractor, neurosurgeon, or doctor may suggest more exercises for you.
If you need additional help with your posture because of a condition or other extenuating factor, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she knows which exercises and strategies help people in your situation improve their posture and mitigate pain.
For more information on controlling back pain, visit the rest of our blog.