As kids, it is inevitable that you were told to “Sit up straight!” more than a handful of times. The nature of the universe dictates that objects will take the path of least resistance and slouching in a chair rather than remaining rigid provides just that.
As time passes, the emphasis of good posture tends to move away from proper dining etiquette and instead starts to be a focal point for relieving back pain. Especially for those individuals who spend all day sitting at a desk, poor posture can lead to borderline debilitating back pain that causes difficulty sleeping at night. The first step to improve your posture starts with understanding how posture affects the rest of your body.
Why Posture Matters
When the body is in a slouched position, stressed is placed on all of the muscles of the back for a prolonged period of time. When this happens, they start to experience minor contractions in order to shorten the muscle and get back to a healthy position so that damage does not occur.
When these contractions happen over time, trigger points, or knots, may develop in an effort to help restore the proper functional position. When this position is maintained for a longer period of time, such as 40 hours a week at a desk, these contractions, along with muscle damage, can add up quickly.
How to Improve Your Posture
While fixing posture is not an overnight miracle, there are some steps you can start taking today that will make a difference.
1. Switch to a standing desk
Many people are starting to switch over to desks that allow them to easily alternate between standing and sitting. While standing all day isn’t necessarily ideal, having the ability to switch from a seated to a standing position throughout the day will help give your back a break and force you to stand upright.
If you are opting to go with this option, it is important that you can adjust the height of your computer to eye level in order to avoid neck pain. This will also assist you in a seated position as an added means of adjusting your posture.
2. Strengthen your core
Many of the core muscles in the body serve to help posture rather than to produce force. These muscles have the ability to fatigue throughout the day, making it more comfortable to slouch back rather than sit upright for hours on end.
Strengthening your obliques and the low back will help improve muscular endurance allowing you to maintain a better position for longer periods of time.
3. Written cues
Sometimes having a note at your desk or even around the house with cues such as “shoulders back” or “tighten your core” can make a world of difference. It is easy to fall into bad posture habits if we are not constantly forcing ourselves to be reminded of the proper position to be in.
4. Physical cues – In addition to these written cues, you can take advantage of physical ones such as rolling up a towel and placing it behind your back running up and down. When you feel the towel as you slouch back, your muscles will naturally work to round themselves around the object. This may help provide the reminder and even assistance needed to start making changes that will even come naturally.
You can also set an alert on your phone or activity tracker, such as a Fitbit, to stand up and move every hour. This can be a helpful cue to reset your posture when you return to sitting.
5. Strength training
Another less known way to improve posture is to focus on strengthening the middle and lower traps as well as the rhomboid musculature. These muscles, which are just on the inside and angled down from the shoulder blades, can assist with keeping the shoulders back naturally through an increase in strength and hypertrophy. This is especially important for individuals who have a tighter chest, or more mass in the anterior cavity of the body.
While it will take time to notice marked changes in pain and function from improved posture, utilizing these tips as early as possible will help to transition into a better, more comfortable state. If you are finding difficulty in increasing strength of the back and core, working with a certified strength training professional may be recommended.
For additional tips on how to improve your overall bone health, check out our list of poor habits to break. If you have back pain that does not subside regardless of sound posture, you may want to consult with your physician to rule out other conditions. South Shore Orthopaedics in Hingham, Massachusetts offers same-day appointments. Call (781) 337-5555 to schedule.