Sit up straight, stop slouching, shoulders back! We’ve all heard these commands before. Are you sitting up straight right now? Once you bring your attention to your sitting position, you probably sit up taller.
Posture refers to the body’s alignment and position with respect to the force of gravity. The further one’s posture deviates from the ideal alignment the more load is placed on the body’s passive structures (joints, ligaments, and discs), and the more work the muscles have to perform to prevent further deviation from ideal posture. The best way to illustrate this concept is to look at the effect of forward head posture (FHP). For every inch of forward head posture, an additional 10 lbs of force is applied on the cervical spine. Since the human head weighs 12 lbs on average, just 2 inches of forward head posture almost triples the relative weight of the head. Think about that for a moment. There is a good chance that as you are reading this article your head is applying 30 lbs of pressure on your neck and midback.
What is the ideal postural?
The ideal upper body posture alignment in sitting is one where the ears are in line with the shoulders and the shoulders are in line with the hips. Try it right now. Would you be able to maintain this posture all day while working on the computer and looking at your phone? For most, the answer to that question is no.
So instead of aiming to achieve perfect static postural alignment at all times, let’s explore posture as a dynamic concept that is affected by a multitude of factors such as our environment and our movement habits.
Since most of us spend the majority of our time sitting in front of a computer, one of the most important parts of our environment is work station ergonomics. An optimal workstation set up will make it much easier to maintain proper postural alignment throughout the day. For example, using a computer monitor where the top of the monitor is at eye level will force you to look straight ahead and assume a more upright posture as opposed to working on a laptop which will more likely lead to looking down and assuming more of a forward head position. Similarly, a chair that provides proper lumbar support and is set up at the appropriate height will make it much easier to maintain the natural curvature of the low back and avoid slouching.
Exercises and movement habits
Most of us sit far too much throughout the day. We sit at work, then we come home and sit some more while we watch television. Our body gradually adapts to all this sitting leading to increased stiffness at the hips and at the thoracic spine. Prolonged slouched sitting also increases the load at the low back which increases the strain on the lumbar disc and ligaments.
Certain habits can be used to limit the negative effect of sitting and gradually reduce stiffness in problematic areas:
- Take breaks from sitting: every 30 minutes stand up from your chair. Even if it is just for a few seconds.
- Exercise regularly: The physical activity guidelines recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week as well as 2 bouts of strength training targeting all major muscle groups.
- Make smart exercise choices: it is important to think about what position you are assuming when exercising. For someone that sits in a slouched posture for most of the day, exercises that are performed in standing such as walking or taking a dance class might be a better alternative than biking or doing gym exercises in a seated position.
- Movement snacks: We eat when we are hungry. We rest when we are tired. Why don’t we move when we feel stiffness or are in pain. While simply sitting less and exercising more if beneficial for most. Some people might require more specific movements that target problematic regions to reduce pain and improve their function.
What movement snacks are most appropriate for me?
- If you habitually have a FHP and experience neck or midback pain, movements such as chin tucks performed multiple times per day could help reduce pain and stiffness.
- If you sit for most of the day and experience low back pain with bending, movements that encourage low back extension such as sphinx pose, prone press ups or standing low back extension performed multiple times per day could help alleviate low back symptoms
The possibilities for beneficial movements are endless. What is important is that you find movements that help reduce pain or stiffness and repeat them multiple times per day.
The physical therapists at Paspa Physical Therapy are a great resource for you. By assessing your dynamic posture, workstation ergonomics, pain triggers and injury history we can design a comprehensive individualized treatment plan that will improve your ability to adjust your posture to reduce pain and improve function.