The way you stand or sit has dramatic effects on your overall health and wellness. Over time, hunching over your laptop for hours on end could lead to problems, including low back pain. Yet, many of us are not paying attention to our posture.
“Back pain is the number two reason why people see their primary care providers,” says Ryan Berger, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at Henry Ford Health. And while there’s no clear link between poor posture and back problems, how we move through our days can contribute to ongoing pain and strain.
What Is Posture?
Posture is the way you position your body. There are two types of posture:
- Dynamic posture: The term “dynamic posture” refers to how you hold your body when you’re moving. So dynamic posture includes how you position yourself while you’re walking, running or bending over to pick something up off the floor.
- Static posture: Experts use the term “static posture” to describe fixed positioning that does not change with motion.
Not all poor body position is a matter of posture. You may move or hold yourself in certain ways due to structural problems in your alignment, not your posture. “It’s important to differentiate between posture and deformity,” Dr. Berger says. “So, for example, if you have advanced arthritis, degeneration in the joints may cause a permanent deformity that’s not postural.”
Why Is Good Posture Important?
Whether you’re moving or standing still, how you position your body in space can prevent injuries and back pain and protect against falls. Poor posture can even impact your ability to digest your food and breathe.
Good posture is about more than standing tall so you look and feel more powerful. Here are just a few ways good posture enhances health and well-being:
- It allows you to use your muscles more efficiently.
- It may cut down on the wear and tear of joints, which in turn helps prevent arthritis.
- It places bones, joints and ligaments in proper alignment so you use your muscles correctly.
- It may prevent aches and pains.
- It may reduce strain on your ligaments.
6 Steps To Better Posture
You can train your body to have healthy posture by standing, walking, sitting and lying in positions that put the least amount of strain on your supporting muscles and ligaments. The goal is to maintain the natural curvature in your neck, mid-back and lower back.
From shirts to chairs to mattresses, there are countless tools that promise to improve posture. But you don’t need to buy expensive gadgets to improve your posture. In fact, according to Dr. Berger, there’s no clear scientific evidence to support their use. Instead, here are six strategies to stand taller:
- Straighten up: Slouching is remarkably common. The best antidote: Pretend you’re positioned against a wall. Whether you’re sitting or standing, hold your head straight, tuck in your chin and aim to place your ears over the middle of your shoulders. Standing up? Pull your shoulders back, keep your knees straight and tuck your belly in.
- Move around: Find ways to use different types of movement throughout your day. “Sitting for long periods of time puts pressure on the intervertebral discs in your back,” Dr. Berger says. Stuck at your desk for more than 30 minutes at a stretch? Set a timer on your phone to get up and stretch.
- Pay attention to work ergonomics: Make sure you’re in a comfortable position where you’re not shrugging your shoulders or positioning your arms too high, which can overtax your neck. If you’re not sure your workspace is designed for proper body alignment, get an assessment from an occupational therapist.
- Bend at the knees: “Bending over and picking something up in front of you puts tremendous stress on the discs in your low back,” Dr. Berger says. To minimize that stress, make sure your footing is firm, keep your back straight and bend with your knees. If your bend forward at the waist you’ll put unnecessary pressure on your back.
- Be mindful of how you sleep: Try to fall asleep in a position that maintains the curve of your spine. Place a pillow under your knees or a lumbar support cushion under your lower back. Side sleeper? Bend your knees slightly, but don’t pull them up to your chest. And make sure your head pillow supports the natural curve in your neck.
- Practice yoga: One of the best ways to encourage good posture is to build strength in the body’s core muscles and improve flexibility. Yoga does both. “When we refer patients to physical therapy for their back, many of the techniques we recommend revolve around increasing core strength and flexibility,” Dr. Berger says.
While it’s not medically necessary to treat poor posture if it’s not causing pain or problems such as sciatica, muscle spasms and nerve pain, being mindful of your posture could help you avoid problems later on.
Dr. Ryan Berger is an orthopedic surgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Centers - Fairlane, Plymouth and Royal Oak.