Spoiler alert: It pays to sit and stand properly.
We don’t often think about posture when it comes to our health and well-being. Then, comes that dull ache, a kink in our necks, a twitch in our backs. What was that about sitting straight, standing tall?
Dr. Neil Stakes, a registered chiropractor who runs Back II Life clinic (and a previous Expatpreneur Award winner), explains that our bodies are designed for movement, and being able to get into or out of positions is a sign of flexibility, mobility and good health.
“Bad posture is related to the body’s maladaptation to positions assumed for a very long period of time. The body gradually adapts to the posture and lays down fibrous tissues to support that posture over time,” Dr. Stakes says.
Left untreated, poor postural habits can compound into greater issues, such as arthritis, spinal and joint degeneration and loss of mobility.
Marina Goddu is the owner-instructor of Pilates studio SmartFit, and is also a certified physiotherapist. “A neutral spine is important for good posture,” she says, stressing that postural awareness is the first step forward. “It doesn’t mean it’s straight. Our spine has three natural curves that when viewed from the side, form an ‘S’ shape.”
In that position, the spine and muscles have maximal stability to keep our bodies upright. Outlined here are five of the most common mistakes we’re prone to doing, and how to correct them.
1. Slouching in a Chair
In this position, your upper back is rounded and C-shaped. Your hip bones are pulled backward, the bottom part of your pelvis is pushed forward and the curve in your lower back flattened. It may feel comfortable, but here’s what is really happening: your vertebrae are crunched down together, increasing tension in the discs, which results in lower back pain, pinched nerves and potentially, spinal misalignment. Not to mention, tight hamstrings, weak abdominal and gluteal muscles.
Fix it: When sitting, move closer to the edge of your chair, with one leg slightly forward and one leg back, and your feet flat on the floor. Your knees should be level with, or slightly lower than your hips. Put a pillow in the arch of your back to maintain the natural curve of your spine.
Work it: Bridges, back extensions and planks to strengthen your core and glutes.
2. Sticking Out Your Butt
Blame heels, social media and the need to “booty pop” (did we just say that??) in pictures.
Does it look good? Maybe. But in this position, your pelvis is pulled forward and tilted downward. You’re hyperextending your hips, and overarching the curve of your lower back. The muscles in front of your pelvis and thighs tighten, while your gluteal and abdominal muscles, and hamstrings weaken. All of this accumulates to lower back pain. Some people may find they’re unable to flex their lower spines. Remember what Dr. Stakes said about mobility and good health?
Fix it: Make a conscious effort to keep your body aligned, maintaining the spine’s natural curvature. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you upwards.
Work it: Planks, side leg raises, hip flexor and thigh stretches to strengthen your core and glutes.
3. Leaning on One Leg
We’ve all done this while waiting in line, or walking with a bag on one shoulder. According to Dr. Stakes, this can lead to maladaptive changes in the spine and surrounding muscles, and more severely, scoliosis or a curved spine.
This occurs because you’re placing excessive pressure on one side of your lower back and hip, causing a pelvic tilt due to longer, weaker muscles on one side, and short and tight muscles on the other. Pain may develop in the hip area or buttocks, radiating into the leg. Eventually, the whole spine deviates.
Fix it: “Think of your body as a building,” Marina says. “Your legs are its foundation, so when you stand, distribution of your weight should be 50/50.”
Work it: Strengthen your glutes and improve hip mobility with reverse leg raises and clamshells, and planks to correct uneven hips.
4. Text Neck
If you’re reading this on a mobile device, there’s a strong chance you’ve got your head forward, shoulders curved and back hunched – in short, “text neck” (check out the photo of the woman at the top of this article).
Let’s put this in perspective: The average human head weighs about 5 kg. in a neutral position (when your ears are aligned with your shoulders). The more you tilt your head forward, the more the pressure on your spine increases. This constant flexion can pull it out of alignment; leading to muscle strain, pinched nerves and headaches, or worse, early degeneration – herniated disc, anybody?
Fix it: Pay attention to your head position when using your device, keeping your screen at eye level to prevent your neck from bending forward.
Work it: Doing gentle movements like chin tucks or cat stretch helps with spinal articulation, while downward-facing dog opens up your chest walls and shoulders.
5. Rounded Shoulders
Poor posture habits, including slouching and text neck, encourages your shoulders to roll forward. It seems inconsequential, but when this happens, the space between the humerus (ball-shaped bone in your shoulder) and shoulder blade decreases, causing muscle imbalances and inflammation of the joints.
The dangers are real: Frozen shoulder, impingement, tendonitis and joint degenerative arthritis. Yikes!
Fix it: Make it a habit of rolling your shoulders back and down, keeping your neck lengthened upward and chin tucked in.
Work it: Chest openers and scapula (shoulder blades) exercises like doorway chest stretches, wall slides and hand clasp to lengthen shortened muscles, while band pull-aparts will strengthen major muscles of your back.
By Lydia Ng, March 2020
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