How many times have you been told to sit or stand up straight in your life because you were slouching? A child may have viewed this as a ‘leave me alone moment’ but most of us may not have known or understood the importance those words regarding our posture held. Slouching can happen as a result of a poorly set up work station, frequently looking down at our smartphones or a lack of confidence. That cumulative effect can lead to problems with neck and shoulder pain as well as back pain.
How is good posture defined?
Good posture is defined as your ears positioned or aligned over your shoulders, with your shoulders down and back. When the spine is in proper alignment, spinal stress is decreased. In reverse, poor posture occurs when the head is tilted forward, the shoulders are rounded and slumped forward.
What are the Benefits of Good Posture?
Maintaining good posture is less stressful for your spine.
The adult human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds when the spine is in a neutral position. When we look down at our phones the amount of force put on the neck increases significantly. A forward head tilt of as little as 15 degrees, results in 27 pounds of force placed on the cervical spine! As shown in figure 1, the pounds of force placed on the cervical spine continues to increase as the head tilts farther forward. That’s why whenever possible, it’s very important to look at our screens with a neutral neck posture.
You decrease the risk for developing Upper Crossed Syndrome
Upper Crossed Syndrome is a result of weakness in one group of muscles and tightness in another group of muscles. It is characterized by a forward neck and head posture and rounded shoulders that are slumped. This alteration of posture can result in restricted movement, headaches, pain in the neck, shoulders, and jaw.
Good posture allows for better airflow through our lungs
Try taking a deep breath while in a slouched posture. How does that feel? Now take a deep breath while sitting or standing up straight. Do you notice a difference? If it feels easier to inhale and take in more air, you are correct. The ability to do so means more available oxygen that will be delivered to your tissues with less effort.
Good posture portrays confidence when speaking in public
Good posture while public speaking can help you to feel calm and more confident on the inside and project confidence to your audience. Your audience will feel that you have something worthwhile to say and it helps you to breathe easier and project your voice.
Ways to Improve your Posture
Engage in forms of exercise that help to strengthen postural muscles and stretch tight muscles
Strengthening exercises that work on weak muscles and stretching exercises that ease tight muscles can help to ease pain and discomfort that can occur. It is important that these exercises are done on a consistent basis to help build capacity and endurance to derive long-term benefits. The PDF linked here from the National Academy of Sports Medicine delves further into Upper Crossed Syndrome, which includes five exercises to combat the negative effects of bad posture.
Consistently make a conscious effort to be aware of how you sit, stand and hold yourself
It’s very easy to revert to old habits, which can result in pain and discomfort due to an exacerbation of symptoms. Maintain an internal checklist of sitting and standing tall, keeping shoulders down and back and your chin retracted, even when you are having a conversation with others.
Avoid prolonged sitting or standing
Prolonged sitting or standing without breaks can lead to slouching. Set a timer to get up from your workstation every 30 minutes even if it is just to stand up. Watch this Operation Health@Home video on stretches to relieve neck and shoulder tension that can help during those breaks.
Make sure that your office work station is set up correctly where your computer is set to eye level. Here is another Operation Health@Home video on Home Office Ergonomics, which shows you how to adjust your work station.
The bottom line is posture plays an important role in how we work, exercise, and relax. Taking the time to make a few small adjustments in how we sit, stand, and work can go a long way in maintaining the health of our spines.
Hansraj K. K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical technology international, 25, 277–279.