At some point in life, most of us will develop back and neck pain. The pain may be related to an accident, sports injury, or even due to health conditions such as scoliosis. However, the leading cause of back and lower back pain can be related to poor posture. Most of the repetitive activities people engage in at work or at home such as spending long hours hunched behind a computer screen or lifting heavy objects create muscle tension and tightness that eventually cause backache. Fortunately, you can prevent back, neck, and lower back problems by maintaining a healthy weight, doing general physical fitness exercises, and more importantly paying close attention to your body posture. This article looks at some of the most effective ways of managing posture problems.
What is Good or Poor Posture?
Posture is basically the way a person holds his or her body while sitting, standing, or performing simple day to day tasks such as lifting, pulling, bending, or even reaching for an item on a high shelf. With a good posture, the spinal bones, also known as vertebrae, are aligned correctly making it easy and comfortable to perform the task at hand.
Poor posture, known medically as postural dysfunction, can be described as positioning your spine in an unnatural posture where the curves are emphasized. Poor posture leaves your joints, vertebrae, and muscles in a stressful position. Positioning the body in a stressful physical state for a prolonged duration builds up pressure on the vertebrae, muscles, and joints. The unnecessary and often problematic postural pattern not only affects the back but other parts of the body too. For example, sitting for many hours with knees tucked under the chair can be hazardous to your kneecaps.1
There are many painful problems that result from poor posture. The most common complaint associated with postural dysfunction is lower back pain. Shoulder and neck pains may result from poor posture. Knee and feet problems are common symptoms of exercising or running in a bad postural form.
Factors that Contribute to Poor Posture
Postural dysfunction is a problem largely caused by behavioral and lifestyle choices. Some of the most common factors that contribute to poor posture include lack of awareness or knowledge about correct posture, sedentary lifestyles, poorly designed ergonomic workstations, occupational demands, joint stiffness, weak muscles, and poor core stability.
Symptoms of poor posture include pain in the lower or upper back, around the neck, on the shoulder, and the arms. The problem is also characterized by pain in the lower limb, in the hip, knee, and ankle. The build-up of tension in the upper back, shoulders, or neck can cause muscle fatigue and chronic headaches.2
Visible symptoms of postural dysfunction include rounded shoulders, slouching, bent knees, hunchback, and always tilting the head forward. A person with poor posture has his or her shoulder blades excessively stretched back, locked knees, an arched low back, and a pot belly.
Can a Poor Posture be Corrected?
A poor posture can easily be corrected by adapting better sitting or standing positions and observing a regular regimen of simple posture correction exercises. A poor posture results from a biological adaption of incorrect body positioning over a long time. However, it takes effort and commitment to correct poor posture but it is possible. Humans are known to adapt to almost any condition. The posture correction process may take time and seem difficult but it can be done.
The first step would obviously be to address systemic barriers to your posture correction success. These are problems that make it almost impossible to correct your sitting, standing, and walking positions. It is highly recommended that you solve these problems first. Some of the most common systemic barriers to your success include:
- Fatigue due to insomnia. Lack of adequate sleep or insomnia leaves you feeling fatigued most of the day causing your body to slouch or adopt a bent posture. Insomnia is a behavioral problem that can be treated before you take measures to correct your posture.
- Pain. If your body’s poor posture results from pain when trying to adapt the right posture, address the pain first.
- Mood and emotional disorders. It is hard to correct your posture if it is caused by a mental health issue. If you suffer from depression, anxiety, and are constantly in a bad mood, consult a mental health professional first. Physiotherapy exercises can also help to uplift your mood and help you correct your poor posture.
- Occupational factors. While we don’t recommend that you quit your job to work on your posture, you may need to make necessary changes in your work place if your job exposes you to significant postural strain. It may be some times be necessary to consider a job change if your health is at stake. It may be difficult to work on your posture while going through life as a tired, depressed, individual with a job that demands bending over a conveyor belt for many hours each day.
Practical Ways of Managing and Treating Poor Posture
You can manage and improve your posture by practicing a few basic exercises and behavioral changes. Here are a few but effective posture correction solutions you might not have thought of.
Physiotherapy Treatment of Postural Dysfunction
Most people believe physiotherapy is for people suffering from injuries and serious health conditions such as stroke and heart disease. What they don’t realize is that physiotherapy treatment can help you minimize or completely eliminate poor posture. Physiotherapy treatment in this case includes assessment of your postural habits, training and education on correct posture, soft tissue massage, manual therapy, postural tapping, dry needling, electrotherapy, corrective exercises, Pilate exercises, joint mobilization, and advice on activity modification.
Trained physiotherapist will help you to develop a better stance in which your back is always straight, chest thrust forward, and your belly well tucked in. Let’s look at some of the simple exercises physiotherapists use to help you achieve a better stance.
This is a simple exercise that you can do at home. Start by sitting on a straight backed chair with feet on the ground. Take a few breaths and lift your chin up. Stay in this position for 5 minutes then relax. Repeat the exercise ten times in a single session. Repeat the session 3 to 5 times at different times of the day.
Shoulder Blade Exercises
Start by standing or sitting with your back and neck held straight. Gradually squeeze your shoulder blades as close to each other as you can possibly manage without pain. Stay in this squeezed position for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat the exercise ten times. You can do it three to five times every day.
Chin Tucks Exercises
While sitting or standing with your neck and back straight, push your shoulders back slightly and tuck your chin up as far as you can possibly go without pain. Your eyes and nose should be facing forward. Stay in this position for 2 seconds and relax. Repeat the exercise ten times or for as long as you don’t feel pain or uncomfortable. Do it 3 to 5 times every day.
This is an easy mental exercise. Start by visualizing a straight line that passes through your body from the floor up to the ceiling. Your shoulders, ears, knees and ankles should be lined up vertically. Now think of a chord pulling your head higher and making you even taller. Do not stand on your toes but visualize your head stretching to the ceiling while increasing the length between your pelvis and rib cage. Think of yourself as a spinning ballerina or a gliding ice skater. The imagery exercise helps to align your vertebrae and give you an upright posture.3
Props and Other Available Tools
Physical assistance can also help to correct bad posture. For example, sleeping on your side helps to maintain a correct posture even while asleep. However, most people find it difficult to sleep on their sides without turning over. You can enlist the help of a pillow to prevent you from rolling over onto your stomach. Think of other creative tools you can use to support your posture while sitting or sleeping.
Manage your Posture by Tapping
If you have a postural challenge while sitting, such as the habit of thrusting your head forward when working at the computer, you may want to do simple tapping exercises to correct your bad posture. When you move your feet from beneath your chair to do simple tapping motions, your body automatically leans back in a straight correct posture position. Tapping may be irritating to your colleagues but it is an effective way of forcing your reflexes to adapt to a better sitting stance.
Bad posture is associated with painful conditions such as back ache and neck pain. Fortunately, it is not a permanent condition and can be corrected with simple exercises and behavioral changes. When you practice posture correction exercises consistently, your body adapts to a better stance. With practice, good posture soon becomes a habit.
Author Bio: Practising his profession for over 30 years, Russell Thompson provides a top-notch physio service in Australia. He specializes in providing services for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions and has been a consultant to numerous Olympic Athletes.