These days of hunching over smartphones and laptops, you’re likely to often be slouched or jutting your head forward. Here are some exercises for good posture.
“Sit up straight!” Did your mother say that to you? It’s good advice, if you actually learned what a comfortable healthy posture feels like. In these days, when so many of us are squinting over smartphones or typing on laptops in odd places, you’re likely to often be slouched or jutting your head forward — a recipe for back and neck pain. Many of us also sleep in postures that strain our muscles and we wake up sore and stiffer than we need to be.
What does good posture look like?
To assess your standing posture, recruit a helper to take your photo. Wear form-fitting clothing and stand comfortably, with your feet spread about as far as your hips. You’ll need two photos, head to toe, one from the front and one from the side.
Now look at the side photo carefully.
- Where is your ear in relation to your shoulder? Is it in front of your shoulder, or about in the middle? If it is jutting forward, the likely cause is a stiff neck.
- Again in the side photo, can you see your shoulder blade? This suggests a rounded back, a source of back pain.
- Are your hips tilted forward, your belly stuck out, and your lower spine arched? Another source of back pain!
It may be upsetting to see that you are lopsided, but stay calm; self-awareness can go a long way. You can feel much better if you learn to notice when you’ve adopted an unhealthy position and adjust. You can also do exercises that target the weak muscles that often underlie bad posture.
How to have good posture
Stiff neck. If your head is jutting forward, you are probably experiencing some neck pain, or even headaches, pain in your jaw, or sinus pain. Consider these remedies to get the benefits of good posture.
First, check out the places where you usually work at a computer. Is the screen angled comfortably and at a height where you can see it without looking down or up? Ideally, you’ll be looking straight ahead. Second, get your eyes checked to see if you need glasses or a new prescription. You may be stressing your neck because you can’t see well. (You may need a specific prescription just for working at your computer.)
Check with your company to see if you can get an ergonomic evaluation of your desk. The U.S. Department of Labor has a checklist that can help you and your company create a safe and comfortable workstation.
People sometimes get stiff necks because the sleep with their heads propped at an angle. Sleeping on your stomach is rough on your neck. Sleeping on your back may be most comfortable for you, but again, don’t prop your head up so that your neck is tilted all night. When you lie on your side, be sure your neck is supported and your head is flat, not angled up or down. To hear an explanation and see ideal sleeping posture, check out this video from New York City physical therapist Ryan Johnson. You want to put the pillow under your neck, not your shoulder, as many of us do.
Round back. You need to strengthen your trapezius, the muscle that runs between your shoulders through your back. One exercise for good posture: lie face down with your elbows at right angles. Now raise your arms, using that back muscle, without changing the angle, and squeeze your shoulders together. Hold for five seconds. Do this 12 times. Work up to two sets of twelve a day.
Tilted pelvis, arched back. Your hips are probably tight. There are many ways to loosen tight hip reflexors. In yoga classes, a classic hip-opener is the “half-pigeon pose.” You can also lie on your back, put your arms under your right thigh and bring your shin up to make a right angle to the floor and place the heel of your left foot on your right thigh. You’ll feel the stretch in your left hip. Hold until your hip relaxes. Then repeat on the other side.
Sleeping on your side can hurt your hip. Many people put a pillow between their knees. Actually, you can rest your hip if you keep a firm pillow between your thighs, not knees, so your top leg is at a right angle to the bed, not tilted down. The pillow will support your upper leg and fill in the space, as you can see in this demonstration from Johnson, the physical therapist.
Next, examine the photo in which you face the camera. Are your shoulders even or is one higher than the other? Are your kneecaps facing forward or tilted inward toward each other, a sign of pigeon toes? Are your toes pointing forward or out to each side at 10 degrees or more, a sign of duck feet? There are a variety of exercises you can do to address each of these issues. You might ask your doctor for a prescription to see a physical therapist, or take one or two private lessons with a yoga teacher or a specialist in the Feldenkrais techniques to address specific muscular and movement issues.
April 21, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN