Dear Lifehacker, I spend all day at my desk, and over time, I've noticed my posture has gotten worse and worse — and I'm even feeling some occasional back pain. How can I fix it? Signed, Perpetually Bent
We're sorry to hear about the back pain! You're right — a good posture can go a long way in avoiding chronic backache, headache, chest pain as well as shoulder muscle pain. This is especially true for computer users like most of us, who slouch in front of the computers for hours at end.
When we talk about posture, the general idea is that a person standing up straight has a good posture and one with slightly arched back has a poor one. But what people don't realise is that your posture is not just limited to the way you stand.
Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.
The gradual deterioration of your posture
How your posture looks today is a result of years of activity. Over time, the stress of poor posture can change the anatomical characteristics of the spine, leading to the possibility of constricted blood vessels and nerves, as well as problems with muscles, discs and joints.
If you are a tall person, you might have slouched to avoid attention when in a group or while sitting in a class. In an exactly opposite situation a shorter person could have overstretched himself to look taller, resulting in a poor posture. And, of course, most of us spend hours every day sitting at a desk where it's all too easy to let your posture slip. Over a period of time such habits have a long lasting impact upon how our posture shapes out. Inculcating the correct habits can go a long way in avoiding chronic pains associated with poor posture.
Understanding your posture
The very first step in improving your posture is getting to know what exactly you might be doing wrong while you stand, sit, or walk. The best approach towards understanding whether your posture is healthy is to observe yourself while you walk. Focus on the body movements from the head to toe.
Make a mental note of posture and back support. This will help you identify the time and locations that tend to result in poor posture. A healthy posture is denoted by easy grace of walking while an unhealthy posture would look labored and disconnected. For some people, asking others to observe them while walking or sitting helps. Another way to check your posture is standing sideways in front of a mirror like you normally do can help reveal a lot about your posture.
The Dos and Don'ts for Maintaining a Good Posture
While Sitting - For people whose work involves sitting at a computer for several hours, it is imperative to cultivate healthy sitting habits. The spine is not designed to bear prolonged loads of weight in a static position, and this can cause future complications to the spinal column to develop.
When you sit on a chair, your lower back or the lumbar region of your spinal cord should get optimum support. This would help maintain a good posture and avoid lower back ache in the long run.
Photo by big g fish
Try to keep the top of the screen at an eye level, while making sure that both the arms and the wrists are properly supported by the chair and the table, while the head is resting back on the chair.
While Standing - A lot of people have the habit of keeping their hands in pocket while standing. Gradually this leads to slouching shoulders, since while standing the proper way to maintain a good posture is to keep the hands by the side of the body.
Keep some distance between your feet so that they align with your shoulder.
To get an idea about how you are doing, stand against a wall. For most people everything except the head would touch the wall. This means you have a scope of improvement there. Try and inculcate the habit of standing with your shoulders upright, which would help the head line up with the spinal cord.
While sleeping – Using a relatively firm mattress is a good idea, since it provides a better support to the body while sleeping.
Sleeping on the back, instead of side can help improve your posture, since while sleeping on your back, the spinal cord gets complete support from the bed and the shoulders line up perfectly with the body.
Which kind of pillow you use is an individual preference, but a flat pillow is better if you sleep on your back most of the time and the opposite is true if you sleep on the side.
You can also place one or more pillows below your knees when sleeping on the back to reduce strain on lower lumbar region.
Exercising – Getting up regularly from your chair or stretching in regular intervals can help relive the muscle fatigue. People who exercise regularly generally have a better posture than the ones who prefer sitting in one place for long period of time.
So try and include an exercise schedule of 15-30 minutes in your daily schedule. Exercising your back and abs will yield great results eventually.
Extreme Posture Makeover
So you are unhappy with your posture and want to try out something that gives faster results? Well there are a couple of things you can do.
- You can use a duct tape or something similar and create a X mark on your back. Stand up straight with shoulders upright and ask someone to stick the tape from top of your right shoulder to the left hip, do the same from the right shoulder. This tape will remind you whenever you slouch and help you maintain a healthy posture. Not such a good ideas for guys with hairy backs, Ouch. You guys can try out this 2nd tip.
- For people who are serious about getting their posture right, using Posture braces is a good idea. They are generally a "Firm" reminder that you are getting sloppy and you need to stand up or sit straight. It might be uncomfortable in the beginning, but it will help you in the long run.
As mentioned above, you can take any route for a better posture once you identify the flaws — if any — in your posture. Going slow and developing healthy habits is the right way to go, but if that doesn't work out well you can always take the extreme route.
Hope that helps!
Top photo by dgilder