Did your mom and dad always tell you to sit tall, don’t slouch? Your parents were likely concerned with your appearance and aesthetics, and may have not fully realized all the health benefits of a properly positioned Healthy Body. Even if aesthetics is the motivation, improving your posture is worthwhile to improve your health.
Proper neck and low back curves are necessary for normal mechanical and neurological function. The typical pattern of change here involves the head sitting too far forward.
The normal, natural curve in the neck when viewed from the side is lost in this position and causes a similar change to the curve in the lower back. This also causes the shoulders to roll forward and the upper back to hunch–the most common spinal change we probably dread over time.
Research shows a connection between the forward position of the head and various functions in the Healthy Body. The incorrect position of the bones in the neck in these cases often cause irritation to the nerves creating headaches, neck pain, stiffness, dizziness, ringing in the ears and numbness or tingling into the arms.
The forward position of the head also causes increased pressure from balancing the head on top of the spine.
Some calculations estimate that up to 80 pounds of abnormal pressure can be placed on the bones and joints of the neck leading to premature degeneration or wear-and-tear on those parts. This is also known as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint/disc disorder.
Lung capacity can be reduced potentially contributing to heart and blood vascular disease; loss of good bowel peristalsis or movement can occur; the entire Healthy Body can become more rigid. These are all potential side effects of that stereotypical posture change, also known as slouching!
There is little question that the increased use of computers, tablets and cellphones and other hand held devices coupled with sedentary lifestyles and a lack of awareness around the detriments of poor posture are contributing to a rise in these cases.
The first step to correction is to increase our awareness of what we are doing and how we are doing it every day. When walking, we certainly need to watch where we’re stepping. At the same time, it’s great to know where we’re going!
Instead of staring at the ground or your gadget while walking, attempt to keep your head up and back so you are looking ahead to where you are going. In this way, you get the positive side effect of looking at people, places and things while perhaps even sharing some smiles!
For computer work, ensure that you establish some good ergonomic habits. Keeping your head over your shoulders and over your hips is ideal. This is more easily done when you keep your elbows at your sides and sit close to your keyboard and mouse.
Raise or lower your chair so that your elbows when resting at your sides are at the same height as the keyboard. If your feet come off the ground, use a footrest. If you end up too low, you may have to raise your desk surface. Ultimately, a sit-stand station will give you the most flexibility while also allowing you some variety in working position throughout the day.
Raise your monitor so that a line that divides the top one third of the monitor from the bottom two thirds is at eye level. If you’re on a laptop, consider the use of an accessory mouse, keyboard and/or monitor. Use a document holder to get things up off the desk surface or even attached to the side of your monitor.
Take breaks throughout your workday and occasionally stand against a wall with your heels, bum, shoulder blades and head all touching behind you. This will remind your Healthy Body it can go that way too rather than always forward!
There are several other considerations requiring some time and effort to improve. Things like our sleeping position, what we’re sleeping on, what pillow we’re using, how we watch TV and how we carry things.
It’s not just sitting at a computer that’s culprit–stylists, hygienists and mechanics all have jobs that can cause posture issues. Any other tasks, habits, routines, and sports that promote asymmetry and a forward Healthy Body position should be optimized for technique and balanced with cross-training whenever possible.
Finally, if your posture has markedly changed and you’d like to try and recover some of its beauty to preserve your health, or if you’re experiencing symptoms like headaches, neck pain, numbness/tingling into the arms already, it’s a great idea to contact a health care provider skilled in restoring as much structure and function to your system as possible.
Chiropractors, osteopaths and people who work with techniques like the Feldenkrais Method can help unlock, release and retrain your spine and posture while also teaching you ways to increase your awareness for good spine and nervous system health.
There is a limitation of course, for once something changes so much or has been there so long, it may not be fully correctable. Waiting until symptoms occur or until it’s too late is not our best option. Being proactive with our health, including our posture, is the ounce of prevention that will bring us the pound of cure.
Pay your health forward instead of letting your posture go forward, and you’ll be reaping the handsome, attractive, beautiful benefits for years to come. See, mother does know best… sometimes!