I frequently, if not daily, see the results of prolonged poor posture on the health and happiness on my clients- back pain, neck pain, chronic headaches, sore hips, vericose veins, swollen feet, digestive distress, poor sleep, and even symptoms like depression and anxiety.
When you stand or sit with ideal posture, your spine is aligned and uncompressed, your nerves fire freely, your organs have space to do what they need to do, your circulations is uninhibited, and your musculature can support your body with a minimum of effort. Ideally, we would all have perfect posture all day and even in our sleep. Here are a few tips for improving your posture and reducing your risk of adverse health affects.
- Stand in front of a mirror and take stock of your posture. Do you lean to one side? Is your body symmetrical on the left and right or is one shoulder or hip higher? From the side (you might need a friend with a camera for this) are your ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle in one straight vertical line or is something forward or back of the line? (see “Four Types of Postural Alignment image)
- Visit a licensed chiropractor to have any imbalances in your skeletal system corrected. Have scoliosis, kyphosis, or lordosis diagnosed and treated. This will allow healing to begin and reduce the chance of injuring yourself as you move forward. You’ll feel better, I promise.
- Wear proper footwear! Athletic shoes, no matter how pricy or fashionable, need to be right for YOU to do you any good. They typically fall into three categories- motion control, stability, or cushioned. Consult a trained footwear professional to have your feet evaluated and properly fitted. For a preview of what you’ll need take this test. Even with proper footwear, some people will require orthotics or inserts to get them just right. There’s no shame in this. See a professional for these, since it would be a huge waste of money to buy the wrong kind at a drug store and hurt yourself.
- Another note on shoes: Heels are terrible on your body (seriously, throw them away forever!) Even a small rise is detrimental. There is not a single part of your posture they don’t ruin. Not to mention the bunions, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, blisters, and other foot problems that can cause you to limp, making things even worse. I see people with terribly painful foot problems and near-crippling posture problems caused by years of wearing heels. Just say no as much as humanly possible.
- Exercise regularly to tone and strengthen all your muscle groups, paying special attention to weak or imbalanced areas. Your core needs vigilance to stay strong and flexible. Work antagonistic (opposite push-pull) muscles in the same workout. Consult a chiropractor, personal trainer, or physical therapist for specific exercises that will help the most in correcting and supporting your posture.
- Now that you’ve exercised, S T R E T C H! You can stretch anywhere, with very simple movements. If you’re especially high-speed, join a yoga class. No, you don’t have to be flexible to go to yoga- you go to yoga to become flexible! Get up and move around at least once every 50 minutes or so to prevent stiffness and refresh the body and mind at work or at home.
- Arrange your desk or workspace to be ergonomically ideal. Your monitor/screen should be at eye level, your keyboard at elbow level, your hips and knees at approximately 90 degree angles, feet on the floor, back straight with good lumbar support from your chair. You shouldn’t be leaning forward or slouching back. It should feel comfortable. If you have to squint or lean into your screen, swallow your pride and get some good computer glasses or enlarge the font on the screen. Your neck and shoulders will thank you.
- Provide your body with the fuel it needs to stay upright. Eat FOOD, the kind you can recognize as something nature created, in moderate amounts throughout the day. If it has things in it you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it. It is amazingly cheap to eat well compared to the long-term results of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other diet-dependent conditions, which are thousands of times more costly than an organic apple a day.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Without water you will wilt and your posture with suffer. Drink plenty of fresh water. Soda, diet soda, alcohol, and caffeinated or sugary beverages all dehydrate you. A rough guide is about 1/2 to 1 ounce of water for every pound of body weight (ie: 150 lb woman needs between 75 oz and 150 oz daily). This seems like a lot, but just 1% loss in hydration weakens you by 10%. Not only will you feel better when hydrated, recent studies show that drinking enough water can dramatically lower your chances of having a heart attack. Cheers!
- Sleep well. Have a mattress that matches your body type, weight, and sleeping style. There are different pillows for back and side sleepers. Your pillow should support your neck and head in straight alignment with the rest of your body. Back sleepers should place a pillow under their knees and side sleepers should place a pillow between their legs to align the hips properly. If you are a stomach sleeper, please quit- it puts tremendous stress on your entire neck, reducing bloodflow to your brain while you sleep! Try sewing a tennis ball into the front shirt pocket of your PJ’s for a few weeks to encourage you to roll over.
- Bonus Tip: Get a massage. You’ve been adjusted, worked out, hydrated, fed, stretched, rested, and re-shoed. Now reward your soft tissues for all their hard work by relieving the muscle tension that contributes to pulling you back into bad habits. A professional massage will work wonders for alleviating the pain and stress that works against good posture. Ask for a therapist who is experienced in rebalancing the body after chronic overuse injuries. After all, that’s what bad posture is doing: creating long-term injuries to the spine, muscles, organs, and other tissues. Massage Therapists can analyze your posture and gait to create a massage that will lengthen tight muscles, unbind “stuck” tissue, and rebalance your entire body.