Good posture, we are always being told, is good for your health, and will prevent many aches, pains and sporting injuries. But what is it?
Muscles work in groups, never alone. So over-dominance by one muscle in a movement will mean that the others work less. Muscles will then become too tight or too stretched. Consider the sitting posture; slouching over a desk with the neck protruding forward, will create tightness in the front chest and pec area whilst over stretching all those back and neck muscles. Either way the system will be upset and it will only be a matter of time before those muscles will begin to ache.
The most common cause of generalised neck aches is due to postural stresses, be it from working in a strained position to sitting for too long with poor posture. Poor posture in itself can produce neck and back pains. But once problems develop, poor posture can continue to make the situation worse. Because of this it is vital to work on achieving the correct posture for you.
First thing first: good posture is NOT about standing or sitting bolt up straight. This is just tightening your back and leg muscles and forcing yourself into a false rigid position.
Compare the different sitting positions in the images below:
The ideal sitting posture (on the left) puts far less strain on the neck, shoulders and back. The 'forced' and 'slouched' postures require more muscular effort than poised sitting. Additionally the poised sitting posture on the left allows for good breathing because the spine is passing the weight of her head into the chair and enabling her ribs to move freely.
One of the most common concerns we see at the Health Centre are problems associated with bad posture, typically from sitting incorrectly at work. Often people will sit for 7 or 8 hours straight, slumped over a desk. They will experience low back aches, mid back aches and aches around the shoulder blades that can travel up into the neck amongst other things.
Sometimes people can develop headaches. When we sit for extended periods the muscles of the lower back will tire and relax and the body will slouch. If this slouched posture is continued it will eventually overstretch soft tissues leading to aches and pains.
Initially this may begin with a low back ache that comes and goes after sitting at the desk for too long. This may then progress into more serious pain as the muscles and ligaments begin to affect the joints of the low back.
It is thus vital that you take control of your posture now and get into good habits so as to prevent ill health in the future. An appointment with a physiotherapist will give you the opportunity to discuss your concerns and you will be given advice to individually suit your needs.
In the mean time the following tips will help your posture throughout the working day:
- Whilst at work try to vary your posture so as to get the muscles moving more. Muscles are made for movement so sitting for 7 hours straight is not what they want!
- If you’re not able to physically move from your desk you can try just simply rolling the shoulders back every 30 minutes to help wake those muscles and get the blood pumping.
- Sit facing straight ahead, feet flat on the floor or a footrest, with your legs uncrossed.
- Regularly sit up tall and take in deep breaths to refresh all the air in your lungs.
- Try to strike a sensible balance between sitting still, standing and moving around.
- Don’t wedge the telephone between your ears and your shoulder.
- Don’t sit at a twist at your desk, such as twisting to a computer.
Postural habits are not only important for health in adults but are just as important for children, if not more so.
Children generally start off life with good posture. But over the years, bad habits can creep in, leaving children more vulnerable to back pain in later life. These tips provided by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists can help:
- Encourage children to stand like a soldier, or a ballerina, with head up, shoulders back and tummy in, but remember not to ‘force’ that posture too much.
- ‘One size fits all’ classroom furniture is not always ideal, but children can sit well by bringing their chair close to the table, sitting back in the seat. They should avoid hunching over textbooks.
- Rucksacks are safer than ‘hand’ bags overloaded with books and worn on one shoulder. They should be packed and worn correctly by using both shoulder straps and the waist belt.
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