Ignored your mom when she told you to stand up straight?
You should have listened to her. If you’ve been slouching all your life, your stiff neck, painful shoulders and aching back can probably be traced right back to your bad posture. Not paying attention to your postural habits affects your overall health and sets you up for neck and shoulder strain, back pain and even joint damage. It’s easy to dismiss minor discomfort, but it’s your body’s way of getting your attention before more serious long-term damage is done.
Think of it this way: If you went to the gym and did strenuous leg exercises five days a week, your legs would feel overworked and sore. Sitting at a desk every day can bring similar results. Poor posture forces you to activate and overwork the stabilizing muscles in your neck and back. Your immune system’s efforts to heal the wear and tear on those overworked structures spurs inflammation that — over time — can lead to arthritis in nearby joints.
So, how can you tweak your habits to remedy the problem?
1. Pay attention to your desk setup
When you sit at your desk to work, hold your shoulders and arms at a 90-degree angle. Position your monitor straight ahead at eye level, not downward.
A 2014 study on text neck — also called tech neck, a problem caused by constantly looking down at your phone or tablet — found that when you hold your head in line with your shoulders, it only weighs about 10 pounds. But for every inch you tilt it forward, the amount of weight it places on your spine nearly doubles.
Standing poorly prompts similar problems for your neck and back. If you have access to a standing desk at your office, that’s a nice option, but you’ll still need to watch your posture. Keep your spine in a neutral position. Watch that you don’t jut your butt backward or lean too far forward, as those positions will eventually lead to low back pain and spinal degeneration.
And, again, it’s incredibly important to make sure you position your computer screen high enough to avoid looking downward.
2. Move around as much as you can
Whether you sit or stand at work, I’m always encouraging my patients to work in regular movement during the day. If possible, set a timer on your phone to take a short break and walk around about once every hour. But even when you’re stuck at your desk, you can vary your motion and position. The body loves variety, so don’t allow your muscles to get too fatigued; switch it up.
If you have a standing desk, you still need to move. Sway a bit, shift the weight between legs, or step forward and backward throughout the day.
3. Try these exercises to improve your posture
Changing your daily routine can help you feel better quickly, but making a habit of good posture may take some time. As with any other exercise routine, it takes about four to six weeks to see real change.
These exercises can help strengthen muscles that improve your posture:
- Superman: Lie on your stomach, and simultaneously raise your arms and legs just a couple inches off the ground. Hold, relax, and repeat.
- Strengthen your core: Planks, side planks, “bird dog” and leg extensions all help strengthen your core muscles.
- Neck extension: Sit comfortably, and press your head firmly backward into your chair (or car) headrest, or into your hands. Hold for 30 seconds multiple times to build strength.
- Shoulder retraction: Work your lats and rhomboid muscles to help pull your shoulders back. Hold an exercise band in front of you at shoulder height, then stretch it across your chest, bending your arms slightly. Return to starting position, and repeat.
If you think bad posture is causing your neck, shoulder or back pain, talk to your chiropractor about additional tips or therapies you can try to ease your symptoms.
Take steps to improve your posture now — you’ll be glad you did later on. (And your mom will be proud of you.)
At Ascent Chiropractic we correct problems in the spine using low-force chiropractic techniques combined with the best of physical therapy modalities to get results that are unmatched anywhere. If you’re in the Brookfield, Wauwatosa or New Berlin areas and suffering from the effects of bad posture, we’d love to help you get started with chiropractic care. Make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.