Poor posture has become a hallmark of our time. Jobs that have you staring at a computer screen all day, leisure activities that include cradling a cell phone or lounging on the sofa, even driving — all these things can encourage a slumped position and lead to a bad habit of poor posture.
“The purpose of our joints is for movement, and our spine is made up of a lot of joints,” said Kara Smith, a physical therapist at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center who specializes in back and neck rehabilitation. “Our bodies are made to move.”
So it might be no surprise that the biggest culprit of poor posture and back pain is sitting.
Smith notes that sitting, especially with bad posture, puts constant low load forces against the discs and joints that make up the back. This can lead to disc degeneration and chronic pain over time.
The good news according to Smith is that you don’t need to do a lot of strengthening exercises to improve your posture; just change your body mechanics. Getting in the habit is the best thing you can do.
“The hardest thing for people is bringing awareness to their posture,” said Smith. “It only takes minutes for people to default back to a bad position after they’ve checked their posture.”
To help yourself practice better posture, try these three tips:
- For good posture while sitting, keep your ears over your shoulders and your knees slightly lower than your hips. Smith recommends using a lumbar roll or rolled up towel to help maintain a healthy curve in the lower back.
- Set a timer or use a cue to remind yourself to sit up straight. If you work at a desk most of the day, a cue might be every time you answer the phone or start a new email you check your posture.
- If you feel like stretching out your back when you get home, Smith recommends tummy time. Lay on your stomach with your elbows propped up to get an arch in the back and to open up the front chest area. In yoga the pose is called cobra.
At the end of the day when you’re ready to relax at home, don’t feel guilty about lazing in your comfy chair while you watch a show.
“It’s ok to slouch, but just don’t slouch for hours and hours,” said Smith. “Get up every 30 minutes and change positions, even if it’s just a two-second stretch and shift.”