Expert shares advice for better back health.
When it comes to good posture, your grandmother knew what she was talking about, and the reasons go beyond appearing prim and proper.
Good posture helps us stand, walk, sit and lie in positions that place the least strain on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement and weight-bearing activities, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Poor posture can lead to “compensation and weakness resulting in possible neck and low-back pain,” explains Sean Riley, doctor of chiropractic at Tulsa Spine and Rehab.
Although 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time, according to the association, you can help prevent it by understanding the most common causes and remedies of poor posture.
Excess weight, which causes people to bear more weight in the front of their bodies, puts pressure on the lower back, Riley says. Wiser eating choices and an active lifestyle are both necessary to reduce weight and, consequently, improve posture and reduce pain. When exercising, focus on improving hip flexibility and strengthening the mid-back and core.
Studies show the weight of a backpack can have adverse effects on a child’s posture. “Sadly, we do see kids and adolescents with injuries related to backpacks, whether it’s neck or low-back pain or posture abnormalities,” Riley says.
He advises parents to choose an appropriately sized backpack for the child’s body. It should fit snugly and not exceed 10 percent of the person’s total body weight. The heaviest contents should be packed closest to the back. “Don’t overload it,” he says. “Use hands to carry some books if necessary.”
Many of us spend most of our time in an office, behind a computer. “The forward world we live in puts our arms in a flexed position with our heads dropping forward,” Riley says. “This leads to slumping over and puts us at risk for upper back and neck pain, which I call cumulative trauma.”
Here are some tips:
1.Take micro-breaks throughout the day. Download a timer to your computer to help you remember when to break, Riley suggests.
2. Next, he says to invest in an ergonomic chair. Keep both feet on the floor, maintaining as a neutral position as possible. Back support is equally important. “Some ergonomic chairs have rolls, but if your chair doesn’t have one, there are different things you can put in the small of your back to provide support,” he says.
3. Consider using a work station that allows you to sit and stand.
“The average head weighs about 10-12 pounds. When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do to use our phones, the effective stress on our neck increases to 60 pounds — the weight of about 5 gallons of paint,” according to a study by New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine. This is known as “iHunch.” Riley suggests cutting back on time spent looking down at your devices to lessen the impact.
Yes, you can help your posture while you sleep. Start by sleeping on your side or back — not your stomach, which can cause increased irritation in the neck and lower back, Riley says. As for your sleeping surface, “You don’t need the most expensive mattress out there,” he says. “Purchase a mattress that will provide a moderate amount of support and avoid pillows that greatly displace your head.”