Do you find yourself slouching when sitting down? Do you find it hard to stand up straight? If so, you may be suffering from poor posture.
Simply put, poor posture is posture that’s slouched or bent forward from vertical. If you think of a plumb line that’s dropped from the ceiling to the floor, it should run through your ear, shoulder, hip bone and just in front of your outer ankle if you’re standing straight and upright.
When you’re sitting in good posture, the plumb line will run through your ear, shoulder and hip. Your chest bone (sternum) is being held up and you have a slight hollowed curve in your low back.
Everyone’s capable of good posture, it’s just a matter of awareness. Even the strongest person in the universe can allow themselves to relax into poor posture.
Why is it important to have proper posture?
When you’re standing and sitting with proper posture, your spine and body are under the least amount of extra strain and stress from the force of gravity. Gravity never relents, and is always pulling us forward and downward, which can lead to back and neck pain over time.
For every inch forward that your head is from vertical, an added 10 pounds of force is added to your neck and back. This added force can cause muscle fatigue and joint pain as the day wears on.
Can balancing a book on your head help improve posture?
To balance a book on your head, you’re forced to keep both your head and back completely upright. Any slouching or bending will cause the book to fall. Try to hold the book in this position starting with 10 seconds and working up to 60 seconds at a time.
How can you improve your posture?
Stay conscious of your posture and remember to correct it throughout the day. We tend to default into forward posture when not paying attention, as the force of gravity never relents.
Remind yourself throughout the day to lift your chest bone (sternum) up, hold your stomach muscles in and hold a gentle curve in your low back. If you sit a good deal of the day, a small pillow behind your low back can help to support your spine in more upright posture.
You also can do exercises to strengthen muscles in your back that hold you in erect posture and gently stretch the muscles in your front that tend to get tight from forward posture.
Core exercises strengthen the muscles in your abdomen, back, hips and pelvis, which leads to better balance and stability through your trunk. This makes you better able to perform on the playing field or in normal daily activities.
The stronger your core is, the less likely you are to strain your back or neck when doing the things that are important to you.
Here are six exercises that can help improve posture and ease back pain:
1. Head Press: Lie on back on mat with knees bent and feet on mat. Feet should be hip width apart. Let arms lie at sides with palms facing up. Gently tip chin toward throat and hold it there. Now holding this position, gently sink the back of your head a little deeper into the mat. Hold gently for three seconds, repeat 10 times.
2. Elbow Press: Lie on back on mat with knees bent and feet on mat. Feet should be hip width apart. Place both hands behind your head. Gently press your elbows down into the mat. Hold three seconds, repeat 10 times.
3. Chest lift: Lie on back on mat with knees bent and feet on mat. Feet should be hip width apart. Let arms lie at sides with palms facing up. Gently press your shoulder blades down into the mat while at the same time lifting your chest bone (sternum) up toward the ceiling. Hold three seconds, repeat 10 times.
4. Bridge: Lie on back on mat with knees bent and feet on mat. Feet should be hip width apart. Gently tighten your abdominal muscles then raise your buttocks off the floor until your hips are in line with your knees and shoulders. Avoid tilting your hips. Hold three seconds, repeat 10 times.
5. Press up: Lie on stomach with palms of hands on mat at shoulder level. Using arms, gently push your upper body up, doing the work with your arms and leaving your hips and legs on the mat. Hold three seconds, repeat 10 times.
6. Superman: Lie on stomach on mat with both arms extended straight over head. Your face should be facing the mat and you can place a small towel roll under your forehead for comfort. Keeping your right arm straight and your left leg straight, gently lift them both up one to two inches toward the ceiling. Hold three seconds, repeat 10 times. Then repeat the exercise with your left arm and your right leg.
Once you start doing these exercises, give your program three to six weeks to notice a difference. Do your exercises three days per week, leaving a day of rest in between. But if any of the exercises feel too difficult or cause pain or strain, hold off on them until you can ask your physical therapist for help.
When poor posture and/or back pain is preventing you from doing activities that are important to you, it’s time to seek medical attention. Your primary care physician can refer you straight to physical therapy when appropriate.
Laurie Bell is a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.