Remember when grandma used to tell you to “stand up straight”? Turns out she was right. Each year, 50 percent of working Americans experience back pain, a health concern often resulting from bad posture. Spending eight to ten hours each day at a deskcan easily lead to poor posture, say experts. Other potential causes of poor posture: psychological distress and depression, lack of exercise, and poor flexibility. Here, three experts weigh in on how to straighten out.
Build a tall spine. Stay symmetrical, without a forward head posture, swayback, flat back, or rounded shoulders. Keep shoulders and pelvis level and feet pointed relatively forward. Avoid sleeping on your stomach or wearing worn-out shoes. Maintain a “tall-spine” posture when sitting, and take breaks after more than 30 to 60 minutes. Stand up, raising hands above head with arms extended and elbows in line with ears. Bend backward as far as possible, keeping hips forward and arms near ears. Repeat ten times.
Find balance. If you notice feet- and ankle-rotation issues, use an insert or orthotic to improve gait and posture. Eliminate faulty breathing patterns to decrease tightness in the neck and slumped posture. To improve balance, stand on one leg while maintaining good posture, or perform the cobra yoga pose to engage your upper-, middle-, and lower-back muscles; gluteals; and rear shoulders. Lie on your stomach with the tops of your feet on the floor, buttocks squeezed together, belly button drawn in toward the spine, and arms along your sides. Point thumbs upward, while lifting upper body off the ground. Maintain tight buttocks and feet in contact with the floor. Pause, and squeeze shoulder blades together. Return to the start position. Repeat 10 to 15 times for one to three sets, with 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
–Jeffrey Tucker, DC Los Angeles
Model a J-shaped spine. You should have significant curvature where the lumbar spine meets the sacrum (very low in the spine, at the first mobile joint coming up from the bottom of the spine) and a relatively flat spine above that. Engage deep abdominal and back muscles to protect against physical stress so you don’t mash your disks and nerves. Stand so that your torso is a tall, slender cylinder instead of a short, squat cylinder to relieve stress on the spinal disks and nerves. Let your behind be behind you, not by tensing the back muscles into a sway or large upper-lumbar curvature, but by relaxing the soft tissues in the groin and strengthening the gluteal muscles to hold the sacrum angled back.
Try stretch sitting. One of my favorite posture-improving techniques is stretch sitting, which you can perform while sitting at work. Stretch sitting helps reverse the spine damage that constant slouching causes. When stretch sitting, use your chair’s backrest to gently stretch your lumbar spine below the contact point with a cushion specifically meant to provide lumbar support. Sitting now becomes a therapeutic activity rather than a compromise to the spine. It also improves circulation and nerve function.
–Esther Gokhale, C.A. author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back (Pendo, 2008)
Take breaks from work. Poor posture erodes spinal health, causing cervical, thoracic, and lumbar pain. Sitting at a computer for eight hours a day is unnatural and intrinsically unhealthy. I recommend people get up from the computer at least once each hour, even if just to walk to the water fountain and back. You can also stand when on the phone with a headset. The best exercise at work, though, is to take a walk at lunch, which forces you to get up from your seat, promotes good digestion, and helps you relax. Stress causes muscle tension, which in turn compresses disks and spinal nerves.
Practice tai chi. The foundation of tai chi—a gentle form of ancient Chinese exercise—is good posture. It elongates the spine, lifts the head and neck, and relaxes the sacrum, lumbar, and buttocks muscles. For best results, practice tai chi two to three times a week with a trained instructor.
–Eyton Shalom, LAc BodyMind Wellness Center, San Diego