We’ve all heard it since childhood- “straighten up!”, “stop slouching!” When we’re kids, we think our parents and teachers are just picking on us, but as adults we start to see the effects of many years of slouching and the chronic issues that follow. Although most people are concerned with the physical appearance of slouching, the consequences are much more profound than a rounded upper back.
If you sit at a computer all day, chances are that you already know that poor posture can cause pain in your joints and muscles. Poor posture can also be responsible for numbness and tingling or weakness in the extremities and can certainly lead to body aches and headaches. What most people don’t consider is what is going on in the inside. Slouching and slumping can actually cause compression of organs, making it more difficult to breathe, digest our food, eliminate toxins from our bodies and can cause a number of symptoms including fatigue and digestive disorders.
Taking care of your spine today, means better health tomorrow. Take the time and make the effort to care for your spine so that you will be strong, healthy and pain-free later on in life! Follow these six steps to straighten up:
1. Get up:
Take breaks from your desk every 30 minutes. Even if you just stand up and walk around for a minute or do some light stretching, this gives your body a chance to relieve the tired muscles that work so hard while you’re sedentary.
2. Invest in a good chair:
Because we all come in different shapes and sizes, an adjustable chair is a great investment to be sure that it will fit your body perfectly. Get something with good lumbar support to be sure that your low back is protected.
3. Take a look at yourself:
When sitting in your chair, your hips, knees and elbows should be at least at 90 angles and your feet should be flat on the floor.
4. Practice awareness:
Making and breaking habits is a tough thing to do. Place a post-it on your computer screen to remind you to straighten up (you don’t even have to write anything on it, you’ll know why it’s there). You should be trying to keep your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips.
5. Get moving:
Joining a yoga or pilates class can be a great way to support your spine through both strengthening and stretching.
6. Get your spine checked:
After major traumas (car accidents, serious falls and sports injuries) and minor traumas (repetitive stress, prolonged improper sleeping, sitting or standing positions), spinal bones can become misaligned and stuck, which can also affect posture. A chiropractic examination will allow your chiropractor to see if there is something biomechanical that may be interfering with your ability to achieve proper posture.
Back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain are all incredibly common- particularly for those who spend most of their day sitting. While it may seem that you’re more likely to sustain an injury during rigorous activity, the truth is that sitting for extended periods of time produces chronic pain and limits range of motion for many people. There are plenty of ways not to sit. Here are some of the worst- and the most common.
1. Still. Yes that’s right! One of the worst ways to sit is to sit still for hours on end. This causes muscles to stiffen or atrophy from lack of use, slows circulation and can make your energy dip. It’s also easier to feel bored, lethargic and chilly. So take regular breaks to stand, stretch and move around- this will help you feel alert and give your muscles some much-needed action. Do you ever notice that when you’re driving for a long time you don’t feel the stiffness until you finally step out of the car? The same can be true of your desk chair- so get out of your seat regularly, and test out your legs, neck and back.
2. Hunched over a device. We are particularly negligent when it comes to our devices, because we often lose track of how much time we spend on them. While you may not be aware of how often you’re tilting your head downward to text, type, check email or work on a tablet –it adds up. In fact there’s even a term for it: text neck. When you extend your neck forward on a regular basis or for extended periods of time (or both) it can lead to muscle soreness, strain, pinched nerves and herniated discs. You may experience more than a stiff neck –tense, sore shoulders, headaches and even jaw pain are also common results of “device posture.” Save your emailing and extensive work for your desk, or invest in a proper iPad stand.
3. In the wrong seat. Your chair dictates your sitting position- and has everything to do with your comfort while seated. If your chair isn’t the right height, you’ll notice you have to extend your forearms downward or upward to type. The resulting pain will either shoot up to your shoulder blades or sit in your wrists. If your chair doesn’t have your sightline level with your monitor, prepare for a sore neck from craning even at the slightest angle. And lumbar support? It’s critical. Make sure your lower back is properly cushioned to avoid slouching, slumping or twisting around in your seat. These positions can cause pain in your hips and middle back.
Which of these three are you most guilty of?
For more workplace health tips, check out this article: “Is Your Job Killing You?”
The connection between how you carry yourself and how you feel
We’re always advocating for good posture –whether sitting, standing, and sleeping. Posture is so important for a variety of health reasons that we’ve mentioned here on the blog before. You’ll likely recall that bad posture can result in chronic pain, poor circulation, headaches, and damage to your spine.
But what about your mood? Many studies suggest that everything from our body language, to our carriage, to our posture can have a direct impact on how we feel –not just physically but emotionally. Here are some of the ways in which the positioning and use of your body can affect your mood or mind.
Feel more energized: When we optimize our posture, it helps us to feel more alert and awake. When you slouch, slump or recline, your body may relax but also understand it’s time to rest or shut down. When you consciously sit up straighter and hold your head up, you’re sending a signal within yourself that it’s time to be alert and productive. Certain postures also allow for freer, faster movement which can get more of your muscles working, elevate your heart rate and help you feel a sustained energy. Think of slumping down a hall with your head down, versus striding with a straight back and eyes forward. The second posture allows for much more efficient and energized movement- and much happier muscles and spines!
Feel happier: Studies also show that people may feel less depressed when their body language conveys traits like enthusiasm, joy, and energy. In addition to the psychological connection that may exist between how we present our bodies and how we feel, there are obvious physical reasons why good posture may keep your mood elevated. Optimized movements and positioning can reduce stress to your body like muscle pain, strain in your joints, or headaches. Eliminating those physical symptoms can help to prevent irritability and roadblocks to productivity that result from discomfort. Just think about how difficult it is to concentrate and sit still when you have a sore back. In this way practicing good posture can help keep you feeling comfortable, capable and calm.
Feel more confident: Another study had subjects place bets while sitting in two different postures. Those in a more open, expansive posture took more risks, while those who kept their limbs tight and body closed off were more conservative. As these studies remind us, we instinctively position our bodies to reflect our mood and mindset. Amy Cuddy’s incredible TED talk discusses the connection between our body language and behaviour in detail, suggesting that we can manipulate our body language to reflect (and help achieve) our desired mental state. We highly recommend you check out her compelling talk.
When we consider argument’s like Cuddy’s, we start to see that slumping, slouching, and closing our bodies off is doing twofold damage- not just to our chiropractic health and wellbeing, but also to our confidence, happiness, and success.
Now if that isn’t a reason to stand a little straighter and walk a little taller, I don’t know what is!
There are many seemingly insignificant, overlooked lifestyle factors that can affect your alignment and physiological wellness. We’ve already mentioned the potential outcomes of practicing poor pillow posture, but what about poor purse posture?
Many of us are guilty of it: we wear a purse, bag or computer case without giving proper consideration to its weight and positioning on the body. Over time, an overpacked bag can affect your gait, posture and comfort. A heavy purse could also be the root cause of ongoing unidentified neck and shoulder pain.
This helpful article from Prevention.com offers some advice about what your purse could be doing for your posture and muscle health- and how you can correct it. Read on for some simple strategies to avoid shoulder bag strain.
1. Switch sides: Chances are you habitually sling your purse over the same arm (likely your dominant side). This is part of the problem- by only wearing your purse on one shoulder, you’re constantly overworking those muscles. Depending on how heavy your bag is, you’re also forcing one side of your upper body to be the load-bearing side, which can affect your gait and mobility.
2. Avoid the crook of your arm: You’ve probably done this one too –stuck your purse strap right in the inside of your elbow. This can cause injury, including tendonitis. It also forces you to hold your arm at a right angle, resulting in more muscle strain and poor circulation.
For more information check out this article: “Are you hurting your health in the name of fashion?” http://ow.ly/lr8UW
3. Wear your strap diagonally. Rather than pulling your laptop carrier, bag or purse over one arm, pull it over your head so that the strap is stretched diagonally across your chest. This will distribute the weight of the bag more effectively and result in less of a heavy downward pull on one side- sparing your shoulder and lower back and engaging more of your torso muscles instead.
4. Choose an appropriate carrier or bag. This is an important consideration we’d add to the list. Consider what accessory might better suit you and save you from neck, shoulder and back strain. If you have a lot to pack for a walk to the gym, try a backpack and be sure to wear both straps. For your computer, consider a briefcase or bag on wheels. For an evening out, swap your carry-all for a small clutch.
5. Lighten your load! The last and most obvious solution we offer is to simply take stock of your purse before leaving the house- particularly if you plan to be walking with it for any extended period of time. What can you reasonably leave behind? Remove spare change and roll it at home to exchange for bills. Take out chargers, extra keys and any other heavy objects that you can do without for a few hours. And every few days clean out your purse – you’d be surprised at how much weight accumulates from simple garbage, junk and forgotten items that could be left at home.
Fess up: How heavy is your purse?
People often make reference to their sleeping habits as the culprit for different aches, pains and ailments. Whether it’s a stiff neck, a headache, or back pain, chances are you’ve heard people chalk up various discomforts with a vague, “Oh I must have slept funny.”
So how much truth is there to this widely used explanation? Can the way we sleep noticeably impact our comfort and alignment? And what can we be doing to avoid the pains of “funny” sleeping?
Dr. Adam Tanase, a U.S-based chiropractor and blogger offers some answers. We liked his blog post “How’s Your Pillow Posture?” which does a great job of outlining some of the consequences of poor sleep posture for your spine. The questions addressed in his article are commonly asked by chiropractic patients who suffer chronic back and neck pain. So take note, and if you’re experiencing consistent discomfort when you wake up, consider adjusting your sleep posture.
How many pillows should I sleep on? The number of pillows isn’t as important as the alignment of your body. Dr. Tanase is right to emphasize the importance of sleeping with your forehead, nose and chin lined up with your spine. Need a visual? He provides a helpful link here. Usually the optimal neck angle (which is none at all) can be achieved with a single thick pillow.
What’s the best sleep position? Similar to his pillow guidelines, Dr. Tanase stresses the importance of sleeping in a position that supports a straight and balanced spine. Sleeping on your stomach is the worst choice, as it puts stress on the supportive structures of the spine, and forces you to twist your head at an extreme angle in order to sleep and breathe freely.
If you can help it, opt to sleep on your side or your back instead and remember to keep your body as straight as possible.
What damage can I do to my back by sleeping incorrectly? Poor sleep posture can worsen existing irritations and misalignments and can produce noticeable damage over time. Some of the conditions you might suffer include muscle spasm, postural distortion and thinning of your vertebral discs. The side effects will be chronic pain in the back, neck and arms. That sounds like a pretty good reason to adjust your posture to us!
On a grim note, Dr. Tanase reminds us these types of spinal decay are irreversible- so don’t delay. Take sleep posture as seriously as you do office ergonomics- just think of how many hours a week you spend positioned for sleep. This gives you an indication of how seriously sleep posture can impact your chiropractic health.
Improving your posture and office ergonomics isn’t difficult. With a few minor adjustments and daily habits, you can prevent regular, ongoing mild to severe back pain and muscle strain. Since these are such seemingly minor tweaks to our routine though, often we underestimate their significance and the positive effect they can have on our health. Dr. Sara Solomon’s blog does a good job of quickly summarizing the importance of making posture a priority in the workplace, emphasizing that when sitting at a desk for several hours a day, you should pay special attention to your lumbar lordosis.
Lumbar lordosis is a fancy word for the small of your back. You may have heard the term “lumbar support” before, particularly when shopping for a desk chair. Your lumbar lordosis naturally curves inward, unless you’re sitting and slouched forward –in which case that curve is lost. As Dr. Solomon advises, it’s important that you sit up straight to maintain the curve of your lumbar lordosis and avoid lower back pain. Supporting your lower back with the right chair or pillow can help you stay upright and comfortable without much conscious effort.
When we slouch –especially for long, uninterrupted work days- it increases the work that our muscles are doing while we’re relatively immobile. Slouching puts a much higher strain on the joints, discs and muscles of the upper body. So when you pull your shoulders forward and move away from the upright support that the lumbar lordosis requires, remember that those lower back muscles are using up more energy to take on the work of supporting themselves. In other words: sore muscles aren’t only a pain; they’re also a drain on your much-needed energy supply.
Here’s what you can do to support your lumbar lordosis and avoid lower back pain.
- Check out Dr. Solomon’s posture correction guideline.
- Adjust your backrest so that it cradles your lower back.
- Purchase a lumbar roll or use a rolled towel to offer additional support.
- Exercise your core to strengthen the muscles of your back.
- Stretch muscles that get tight, cramped or sore throughout the day.
- Have a chiropractic assessment to ensure that there are no mechanical issues with your spine that may be contributing to poor posture.
As we always advise, remember to take frequent short breaks to stand up, stretch and move around. When you pair poor posture with immobility you’re almost guaranteeing yourself back pain. With these small changes implemented in your daily work life, you can keep yourself upright, supported and content. And remember- a more comfortable employee is a more productive one!