Sorry to sound like your mum here, but are you slouching rn? Do you make a point of walking tall, or have you got a little lazy in the deportment department?
It’s always noticeable when someone carries themself with grace, but good posture doesn’t only look nice – it’s also important to prevent back pain, neck pain and so not to develop long term postural problems.
Today we hear from Jenny Constable, women’s health specialist at Six Physio and Steven Berkman, Director of Boost Physio, to learn a little more about posture and what can be done to help improve yours.
So, what is poor posture?
Poor posture, or postural dysfunction as it’s officially known, can be defined as rounded or slouched shoulders, a ‘pokey chin’, or an anterior pelvic tilt – aka, the duck pose.
Unsurprisingly, Steven says that lifestyle factors are the biggest cause of bad posture, and posture related pain is usually due to a prolonged static position – sitting still for too long. “Think about when you are scrolling aimlessly through your Facebook newsfeed or are glued to your computer at work for hours to finish in time for the deadline. You may notice you feel some neck/back pain that relives temporarily with a little stretch or a wriggle. That discomfort is often caused by inefficient blood flow due to lack of movement, which can inhibit the healthy exchange of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.”
Jenny agrees, saying that working at a desk all day causes us to use our upper traps and pecs to help give us movement, but these can get tight and therefore pull our shoulders forward. “Because we’re sitting for long periods at work, we don’t go into much extension, so our thoracic spine – the upper-and middle-back – gets very stiff and develops a curved forward position.”
You are most likely to feel muscle tightness at the front of your shoulders and then as a result, the muscles at the back get weaker, the muscles around your shoulder blades get longer and it becomes harder for them to work. When the pecs and upper traps step in to work instead, it spirals into a stiffer upper back and neck pain. We don’t take the necessary steps to change our bad postural habits – it takes effort to work against gravity, after all – so the upper back gets stiff and it causes neck pain the end of day.
“We tend to travel to work on the train or by car, then we sit at a desk all day, get home late, eat and then go to bed. We’re just not doing enough exercise. We bumble along and a week goes by and a month goes by and you think 'oh, I’d better do something.' Then what usually happens is you blitz some weights but you’re not considering specific, beneficial exercises for strengthening your core and your back,” says Jenny.
Exercise is key
To improve bad posture, Jenny suggests strengthening the lower shoulders and inner tummy muscles (your core) to help hold you upright and create a strong frame. Yoga and pilates are both good, strength building exercises that can be done at home.
Steven says, “The Department of Health recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity every week e.g. cycling or fast walking. A brisk walk to the local park during your work break is a great way to mobilise the body and refocus the mind. Generally, this exercise should be coupled with full body strength and conditioning at least twice per week. Exercises for the back and hips are important for posture and stability and can be performed at the gym with weights or at home with household items such as a bottle of water.”
Wearing heels can also change how you hold your body, which can have a knock on effect on your posture says Jenny. “When you’re wearing high heels, you can’t help but tilt your pelvis underneath you, rounding your lower back and taking the hips and spine out of alignment. If you can’t avoid wearing heels, you can make a small change by taking your shoes off at work and letting your feet sit flat on the floor – this will lower your knees and bring your pelvis into neutral position. Your lumber spine then sits in a neutral position, which helps your thoracic spine.”
Jenny also suggests a five minute exercise that can be done easily at home in the evening, to help your spine. She says, “roll up a big bath towel length ways and lie on it so it’s along your spine from your head to your tailbone. Bend your knees and stretch your arms outwards. Lying like this for five or ten minutes, will help lengthen your spine and drop your shoulders – it’s simple and quick enough to do everyday." There are also things you can do at work, "adjust your desk so your hips and knees are both at 90 degrees and inline – that might mean raising your chair or taking off your shoes. Getting a very small towel or pillow for the small of your back at your chair, can also help. This gives you something to to push against when you start slouching, acting as a prompt and giving you feedback that you need to sit up straight,” Jenny says.
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