Did you know May is “National Correct Posture Month?” We thought it would be appropriate to share why it is so important to have good posture. In years of past, posture was something actually taught in schools. As health care professionals, we wish it still was! Not only is poor posture affecting our sedentary, computer-driven professionals, but also our children.
I recently found out that a young patient of mine is not allowed to hold her book up in school and has to look down in order to read. Unfortunately, this “looking down” posture that her neck must endure is negatively affecting her physically. Have you heard of “text neck?” Doctors are coining this term as a way to describe the excessive neck flexion involved with looking down at devices such as cell phones, tablets, and computers. Being in this position for too long leads to symptoms such as neck, upper back, and shoulder pain, as well as pain that radiates down the arm. We do not need our young ones experiencing this!
Anatomy is where we begin our journey of understanding posture. The body is designed to maintain an upright or erect posture while performing various tasks throughout the day. We have specific muscles, known as postural or “tonic,” that are designed to work for long periods of time and are resistant to fatigue. On the other hand, we have “phasic” muscles that are designed for movement, but fatigue faster. Just like any muscle in the body, if you don’t use, you lose it! Sadly, due to our society’s change in postural habits like hunching forward while working on a computer or simply the act of sitting too much, we are not using our tonic muscles properly and, therefore, not developing them to help us maintain that erect posture. As a result, the phasic muscles end up having to do more work, but aren’t designed to. The result: feelings of stiffness, tightness, discomfort, and pain.
As chiropractors and massage therapists, it’s our goal to help relieve the discomfort associated with poor postural habits. However, it takes partnership and work on the patient’s part to reinforce the work we do by making better choices. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself…
Sitting or standing tall and taking in deep breaths. Sounds simple, right? It is! As a result of hunching forward at that computer or slouching on the couch, we end up taking in shallow breaths and don’t use the full capacity of our lungs. Try sitting or standing tall and take in a deep breath slowly, counting to 4 or 6, and fill your lungs with air. Then, at the same pace (4 or 6 count), let the air out slowly. Repeat 3 times. Wow!!! Now that’s what it feels like to have your brain and muscles fully oxygenated. Do this multiple times per day and I guarantee you’ll notice a difference in your physical and mental well-being.
Give your neck a break. If you sit at a desk, do a lot of reading or computer work, or find yourself chopping in the kitchen, this applies to you! Looking down is very straining on the neck. Try setting a timer to go off every 15-30 minutes to remind you to look up and stretch your neck back. Remember to bring your shoulders back and down at the same time to help restore that proper posture you may have lost while in the moment. More and more people are complaining about headaches, and looking down is a big reason why!
Stand up and move! Sitting for long periods of time can be very challenging on the low back and pelvis. When we sit the hips are in a flexed position, shortening our hip flexors (iliopsoas) which can pull on the low back. That same timer you used to give your neck a break can be a good indicator to stand up and stretch. Some gentle extension through the hips and low back can help release the hip flexors allowing the low back to relax. Also, try taking a quick walk either around the house, the office, or outside. Take long strides stretching through the hips to get your blood flowing and your muscles lengthened. Over time, interrupting the sitting with moving will give your body much needed relief!
Throughout the month of May, check out our Body Logic Facebook page for tips on posture and how to Move Better. Feel Better. Live Better!