Your posture probably isn’t something that you think about every day. I bet you’ve suddenly pulled your shoulders up and back haven’t you? That’s the problem, it’s only when someone talks about it or you read something that you stand a little straighter and a little taller.
Sitting in the wrong chair, having your desk at the wrong height, hunching over your desk for hours on end and looking down at screens such as Ipads and mobile phones all contribute to poor posture. There are three main types of spinal curvature disorders:
- Lordosis – this is a significant inward curve of the spine in the lower back. In some cases, this can be prevented by reversing things such as poor posture and obesity by correcting the posture and doing specific exercises.
- Kyphosis – this is an exaggerated front-to-back curve of the upper spine, usually as the result of poor posture, and is quite common in older women (this is due to weakness in the spinal bones). This is also becoming more common in young people (postural kyphosis) due to slouching and continually looking down at screens. This can also be corrected by correcting the posture and doing specific exercises.
- Scoliosis – Scoliosis (idiopathic scoliosis) is a curve or twist in the spine (S or C shaped), caused by genetic factors which can cause strain on the back muscles. Postural scoliosis is due to poor posture and can be reversed by correcting the posture and doing specific exercises.
Let’s look at how we can improve your posture all the time and not just now and again, when you remember. It’s all about correcting your posture properly. Most people will ‘over-correct’ when trying to stand straighter, which can actually cause more problems and aches and pains. Instead of thinking about standing straighter, try thinking about standing taller and more relaxed (almost as though you have a piece of string attached to the top of your head and it is gently pulling you up). By doing this, your spine will be aligned, and your shoulder blades will naturally fall into the correct position. It’s about working with our bodies and not trying to force it into an unnatural position.
The muscles involved in maintaining good posture are the muscles that we don’t often think about (invisible muscles) that work to keep the skeleton in place. We focus on the main big muscles which we work to keep healthy and toned, such as our abs and glutes, but if the underlying framework is not right, the deeper supporting muscles can waste away due to lack of use. Over time, unused muscles will get tight and shrink, which can lead to the vertebrae bunching up together. This can leave us with many problems ranging from a pot belly and rounded shoulders to headaches, muscle fatigue and back pain. Other muscles will compensate for the muscles which are not being used and this will contribute to general fatigue and pain, getting worse as we get older.
With our super hectic lives and sitting hunched at desks all day, and then slouching in comfy sofas whilst we watch tv, it’s no surprise that many of us have postural problems. The problem is starting in younger people which could be to do with the fact that children spend a lot of time looking down at Ipads and mobile phones.
As I said above, most people will ‘over-correct’ when trying to achieve good posture, by pulling their shoulders back and sticking their chest out. This will feel very unnatural. Instead try the following small changes to your daily routine:
- Stretch your neck regularly by turning your head one way and then the other.
- If you have to cross your legs (it’s better not to), then cross them at the ankles and not at the knees.
- Strengthen your abdominal muscles regularly (as these muscles support your back) with a combination of ab crunches, Russian twists and reverse crunches.
- Exercise and stretch regularly as part of your daily lifestyle. Make sure that you are doing the right exercise for you, and incorporate exercises for your posture. Don’t try to lift heavy weights or push against a heavy resistance if you don’t have a healthy skeletal system to cope with it. It’s very important to start off gently and build up as you get stronger.
- If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, take regular breaks, stand and stretch backwards to reverse the hunching over. Also, make sure that you have the correct chair to support your back.
- Try not to sit in ‘slouchy’ chairs for long periods of time.
- Make sure that you have a supportive mattress that is right for your back.
- Use your legs when lifting heavy things, and not your back!
Exercises for correcting posture include:
- Sit on the end of a long foam roller and lie back so that your spine is lying along the roller, keeping your legs bent and making sure that your head is on the roller. Grasp a towel in your hands (one at each end) and pull till the towel is stretched. Raise your arms over your head until they are almost touching the floor, or as far as is comfortable. Repeat for 1 – 2 minutes.
- Sit on the end of a long foam roller and lie back so that your spine is lying along the roller, keeping your legs bent and making sure that your head is on the roller. Take your arms out to the side and moving them along the floor (or as near as is comfortable) raise them above your head and back down to your hips, as though you are making snow angels! Repeat for 1 – 2 minutes.
- Stand against a wall, making sure that your shoulder blades and head are touching the wall. Lift and bend your arms so that the backs of your hands are against the wall. If your elbows can touch the wall, that’s great, but don’t worry if not. Keeping the backs of your hands against the wall and the elbows bent, slide your hands up and down, again like a snow angel movement, making sure that your hands touch at the top. Do this for 1 – 2 minutes.
- Lie face down on the floor with your head off the floor but in a neutral position. Move your arms forward as though you are in a diving position and then pull your elbows back so that you are squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat for 1 – 2 minutes. This exercise will help with the snow angel exercises too.
- Sit or stand with your arms stretched out in front of you, with your palms together. Take your arms out to the side, until you feel your shoulder blades squeezing together. Breathe deeply. Repeat for 1 – 2 minutes. This is a great exercise that you can do if you are sat at a desk all day.
If you do these exercises regularly and also make the small changes listed above, you should see an improvement in your posture pretty quickly, and this should help with any niggling aches and pains too!
Caroline & Hannah xx