Posture: Back to Basics for Good Health
It’s been a long day at the office and on the drive home you realize your neck really hurts.
You’re a new mom, and after an afternoon of baby and diaper bag carrying, combined with lifting a baby and groceries in and out of the car, your lower back is hurting.
You stood for the entirety of your daughter’s soccer game, and now your back and legs ache.
Could it be your posture, wreaking havoc on your spinal health? And is it really that important to your overall health to practice good posture?
In a word, yes.
“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,” said Kathy Farkas, a physical therapist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “That can decrease the general aches and pains that occur with poor posture — the pains that come with overstressing those postural muscles.”
And your aches and pains may be trying to tell you something about your posture, Farkas said.
“Most people know their posture is bad because it gives rise to pain,” she said. “Or you’re looking in a mirror and you see that you’re bent over or hunched over, and you’ll know.”
“Usually you know if you’re in a slumped position, and you can sit up straight,” Farkas continued. “It’s with the prolonged poor posture that you start to see the real pain.”
But some people, she added, might not realize how poor their posture is until much later in life.
“When you’re 15 and you’re self-conscious and hunched over, and someone tells you to stand up straight, you can and you do,” she said. “But when you get to be 70 or 80, it’s not as easily done. The muscles aren’t as pliable.”
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, she added.
So what are some ways to correct your posture during your day?
“If you’re at work and especially 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.”
Even the placement of your computer monitor is important. “Your head should be level with the screen, or just slightly lower so you’re gently glancing down, not with your head flexed forward,” she said.
Farkas said 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.
And what about mom? Well, her suggestions involve how you distribute the weight you carry through the day. “The baby on the hip just is not a good idea,” Farkas said. “You should really carry the baby in front of you. And try a backpack instead of a shoulder diaper bag, so the weight is distributed more symmetrically.”
But it’s not just aches and pains that can be alleviated by proper posture. 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, but people who slouched had a 10 percent decrease in testosterone and a 15 percent increase in cortisol levels. In other words, the folks with the good posture felt happier and less stressed.
So whether you’re chasing a baby or number crunching, thinking about your posture throughout the day can lead to health and happiness.
Suspect you may need a little help with your posture? Have a backache that won’t go away? If so, check out the Back and Spine Care services offered at Texas Health.