We are often told by well-meaning people to stand up straight or stop slouching at the table. While this is often viewed with annoyance, problems with poor posture over time can put undue pressure on muscles and ligaments and can cause the spine to become fixed in abnormal positions. Good posture on the other hand means training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions that put the least strain on your body and reduces the likelihood of experiencing muscular pain.
Poor sitting and standing habits are very common, and the NHS Choices website identifies several common mistakes that most of us make day to day, with accompanying advice on how to fix them.
Slouching in a chair. While this can be a more comfortable way to sit, slouching can, over time, put strain on muscles and sensitive tissue, causing muscular back pain. Sitting correctly, especially at work, is important even though it may feel uncomfortable at first.
Leaning on one leg. This position may most comfortable when standing for long periods of time, but it puts undue pressure on the lower back and hip which can cause muscle imbalances to develop. Instead you should use your core and buttock muscles to stand up straight with your weight evenly distributed on both legs.
Hunched back. This is also known as ‘text neck’, where your posture is warped by constantly hunching over a keyboard. This is a position that can lead to forming rounded shoulders and a weak upper back. A similar problem caused by sitting incorrectly over a laptop is a poking out chin, which can also cause problems with your posture over time.
Sticking your bottom out Regularly wearing high heels, or excessive weight gain around the waist can both the cause of a pronounced curve of the lower back. To correct this standing posture you should try stand in a way so that your body is in perfect alignment with your neck straight and shoulders parallel with your hips.
Flat back This is where your lower back is flat where is should have a natural curve, leading your shoulders to becomes stooped and rounded. This is often caused by muscle imbalances as a result of sitting down too long and tends make the head and shoulders lean forward, causing upper back and neck pain.
Good posture at work
With most jobs involving long periods of sitting in front of a computer or a laptop, many back and neck problems often result from incorrect posture over a prolonged period. If you have a job where you are sedentary for most of the day it is important to correct poor sitting habits and to regularly move around as much as possible.
The NHS advises that your lower back should be properly supported by correctly adjusting your chair and that your feet should rest flat on the floor. Your computer screen should be at eye level to prevent hunching and your keyboard should be about four to six inches (100mm-150mm) in front of you to rest your wrists between periods of typing.
If you are in the habit of using a phone regularly, to save cradling the phone between your head and neck, the NHS advises investing in a headset or another handsfree option.
Exercises to improve posture
The best way to improve your posture is to focus on exercises that strengthen core muscles, primarily those of the abdomen and lower back. Pilates and yoga are excellent for this as they target the entire core with slow and controlled movements. Swimming is also a recommended exercise to correct posture as good posture is key to swimming well.
Pilates exercises such as the following can be very beneficial: