Good posture is our body’s natural state, but many of our habits and work situations can create bad posture that brings pain. Often times we know what the problem is, e.g. sitting too long, but it can be difficult to know how to change our habits and feel better.
IMPORTANT POINTS ABOUT POSTURE AND PAIN
The pain cycle: We have pain, it hurts when we move, the less we move the more it hurts, the more it hurts the less we move, etc. Stopping the cycle is critical helping our body stay strong and flexible.
Muscle spasm: Our body “splints,” or causes muscles to spasm, in any area that hurts. It is a mechanism meant to stop further injury to the area. Unfortunately, this splinting may become chronic if we do not make changes in our work environment, sleep position, and/or exercise levels. Spasm may become chronic and is often described a catch in the back or neck that hurts if we move a certain way. Chronic spasm can leave our bodies with permanent changes in our muscles and spine.
POSTURE PROBLEMS IN DAILY ACTIVITIES
Initially bad posture and back pain symptoms are often subtle. At the end of your day you may feel fatigue, but when you continue in bad posture patterns the fatigue often becomes pain.
Back pain from sitting on hard or ill-fitting chairs can cause you to shift and seek a posture that moves away from the discomfort but requires you to assume a poor posture. Our posture and pain become limiting factors in our lives. For example, if we come home from work with a body tired and hurting we will not want to do anything except rest. The couch is very tempting.
Resting, however, does little to break the posture and pain cycle. Exercise that you enjoy is the most effective way to decrease bad posture side effects. Try swimming, yoga, walking, photography, exploring places in your community, or dog walking-the important point is to find activities that get you moving and that you truly enjoy, our bodies can settle into a more balanced posture.
HOW TO DETERMINE IF YOUR POSTURE IS A PROBLEM
One of the best ways to evaluate your posture is to stand with your back against the wall, heels back as closely as you can. Try to push your head, shoulders, and buttocks against the wall. The good news is that even if this feels a bit unnatural it does probably mean that “slouching” types of posture can be corrected. If you can put your hand behind the small of your back then you may have too much curvature in you lower back. Too much rounding in your chest and shoulder areas can be the culprit in upper back pain.
Not only is this a good way to check out your current posture but it is a great, easy, quick exercise to do as often as you can.
7 EASY WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE AND EASE YOUR PAIN
- BE HAPPY: When we are stressed or depressed not only are we in an emotional “slump” but our body is as well. This may look like your head is down, your shoulders and upper back rounded, and your hips bent. The opposite is true when we feel happy, peaceful, or excited: our head is up, shoulders and back relax, and we breathe easier. This is why we often think , or say, “It feels so good to be here,” or “doing this.” Feeling good emotionally helps us correct unhealthy posture and feel better.
- STANDING STRETCHING: Take a few minutes, ideally twice per day doing simple stretches.
- Reaching for the sky, going up on tip toes.
- Reach for the floor-allow your knees to bend if needed then return to stance and bend to touch your hand to the opposite knee.
- With your arms at shoulder level slowly turn your body as if to look behind you.
- DEEP BREATHING: Put your hands behind your head and breathe deeply. Your upper body will automatically stretch, become better aligned and move with more flexibility.
- ERGONOMIC DESIGNS: Maximizing good posture within your work area can increase your strength/flexibility, mood, and general health. In sitting, for example, your knees should not bet lower than your hips, and your monitors are at eye level. The environment that fits you is important and should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.
- WALL AND COUNTER PUSH UPS: This activity is a very effective way to improve posture and work the muscles, such as between your shoulder blades, that are difficult to stretch. Facing the wall put your hands flat on the wall and lean into it, then push back. As you progress move your feet further back. This is also great to do at a counter, pushing away from the counter and back up. (While you’re waiting for you coffee or microwave to be done this activity, easy and quick, can improve posture and provide relaxation of the muscles.)
- TIMER: Set a timer to cue yourself that it is time to get up, or step away from the activity and move. Every 20 to 50 minutes is recommended. Or, try one of the new posture and health improvement apps that will teach and remind you to change activities.
- WALK AND MOVE. In the past we were often told to rest an aching back, but too long in bedrest can actually cause the pain and lack of mobility to worsen. Exercise has been found to be one of the most effective ways to relieve back pain quickly.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
- If you have severe pain, especially if you have difficulty moving
- If you have pain running down your arms or legs
- If you have neck pain, stiffness and a fever.
- If you have back pain and it is difficult to breathe.
- If you have numbness or tingling in your back, neck, shoulders, arms or legs.
- If you have a sharp pain in your back when you cough, sneeze, or strain
- If you cannot find any relief from the pain
- If you have fallen or been injured and you have new pain in back or neck