Is Your Back in a Slump? Get to the Core of Your Problem

You heard it a million times growing up: “Stand up straight!” “Quit slouching!” “Watch your posture!”

Sure, as teenagers we may have rolled our eyes at those statements. But poor posture may now be to blame for the aches and pains so many of us feel as we age. And in today’s tech-obsessed, 24/7 world, there are more opportunities than ever to strain or injure our back, spine and neck. But stopping the slouch may be more than a mental exercise – you may need hands-on help.

“When you’re 15 and hunched over, and someone tells you to stand up straight, you can, and you do,” she said. “But when you get to be older, it’s not as easily done. The muscles aren’t as pliable,” explains Kathy Farkas, a physical therapist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Core Issue

Years of poor posture can actually result in structural changes to the spine, muscles, ligaments and tendons, making standing up straight a little more difficult as you age.

To strengthen the muscles that promote healthy posture, the core muscles – those lying bellowing the abdominals, connecting to and surrounding the spine – are the most important muscle groups you can focus on. That includes your glute muscles and back extensor muscles, too, which help stabilize the pelvis and give the back extra support.

“Most people have stronger chest muscles than back muscles, which ends up ‘pulling’ them into a hunched position,” said Dr. Carl Wang, a Spine Team Texas pain management physician and a member of Texas Health Physicians Group. “Keeping good strength in the the core muscles, including the ones on the backside, is important.”

Text Neck

Are you reading this on your phone or other mobile device?  Increasingly, many of us get our news and information this way. Likely, your head and neck are tilting forward to look down at your phone.

The average human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. Research shows that we put about 60 pounds of pressure on our necks when we hold them forward – like we do when we are looking at and replying to text messages, emails and more via our smartphones. Those aching muscles in your neck and back?  They result from the pressure we put on them every day, interacting with our hand-held devices.

From the neck down, good alignment is important, whether you are active or taking a seat. “Office workers often believe they are not stressing their spine with their everyday tasks. Unfortunately, office workers make up the majority of our patient population, likely due to inattention to proper ergonomics while sitting for six to ten hours a day,” Dr. Wang said.

Get Moving

While slumping is one habit Mom might have asked you to stop, another habit may be helpful in battling back pain: fidgeting.

Movement can help keep our bodies happier. Whether you sit or stand for long periods of time, changing positions often can relieve pressure from being in one position.

Farkas said that if you stand a lot at work, shifting your weight and moving can help with lower back pain as well. “Shift your weight, prop a foot up on a stool or inside an open cabinet, or lean against a wall,” she suggested.

“If you are sitting, I recommend changing your position every 20 to 30 minutes,” Farkas said. “Use a small towel rolled up at the lower back to provide postural support. Sit with your feet evenly on the ground, with your thighs parallel to the floor.”

To battle “text neck,” check your equipment settings for everything from your monitor to your phone.  Your head should be level with the screen, or just slightly lower so you’re gently glancing down, not with your head flexed forward.

Back to Health

Good posture has been proven to have benefits, in addition to alleviating back pain.

A study at San Francisco University revealed that students who were told to walk down a hall in a slouched position reported increased feelings of depression and lower energy than the students who were asked to skip down the hall.

And Harvard researchers found that people who used “power poses” (they stood up straight, with their shoulders back) had a 20 percent increase in testosterone levels and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol levels, while people who slouched had a 10 percent decrease in testosterone and a 15 percent increase in cortisol levels.

Take this Back

“Probably the most beneficial thing about having good posture is that it decreases the stress on the spinal musculature, the spinal structure and the joints,” Farkas said. “That can decrease the general aches and pains that occur with poor posture — the pains that come with overstressing those postural muscles.”

So, strengthen your core, practice you posture and reap the benefits. Standing up straighter does make us feel more ready to conquer the world.

Measure how back and neck pain affects your life with our free, online 5-minute assessment. Or find a spine physician on the medical staff of Texas Health hospital near you.


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