“Sit up straight!” If you are like me, you heard these words so many times as a kid that they eventually were conditioned to go in one ear and out the other. Posture was the least of my worries. I had friends to play with, homework to complete and cartoons to watch.
But like most things my mom told me as a kid and teen that I readily ignored (put on sunscreen, don’t read with bad lighting, floss daily etc), I now realize she was right! Ugg.
Neck and shoulder pain is the latest ailment that remind me I’m not in my 20’s any more. We live in a digital world where it is not uncommon to sit for hours on end hunched over a computer. Add daily stressors and this is a recipe for disaster when it comes to your back…or at least that’s what my acupuncturist diagnosed as the “causes” for my frequent headaches, stiffness and knots.
I’m have a type A personality so the thought of being in pain and slowed down for a long period of time (or forever) freaked me out. NOT an option! So as he rattled off all of my options (prescriptions, gadgets, holistic options and on and on) there were only two I really heard…a) change my career path (uh no, not an option) OR b) change my posture. Ok that sounded cool but how the heck was I supposed to do that? I really didn’t feel like being stretched on some torture device and I didn’t have the time for daily yoga classes.
So what to do? Not to my surprise Dr. G had a solution! He recommended I get an AlignMed posture shirt. Now I like my infomercials just as much as the next person but when it comes to actually purchasing something…I don’t (anymore at least)! Most of the crap is exciting for about a week and then just ends up collecting dust at the back of my cabinets. But I needed relief and I trust my doctor so I decided to give the shirts a shot.
Boy am I glad I did! The posture shirts are made of either a polyester/spandex or cotton/LYCRA blend. They use Neuro-bands which are made of non-stretch material, pulling your shoulders back and sending your brain cues that retrain your body to have better posture and less pain. They are actually really comfortable and fit like a Nike workout shirt. After about a week of wearing them for various amounts of time (30 minutes is what Dr. G recommended but I often wore them for longer) I began to notice I was standing up straighter and sitting more aligned…even when I wan’t wearing them! Could it be that I was retraining my bad habits?
After about 3 weeks all my skepticism was thrown out the window! There was no denying I wasn’t getting headaches on a daily basis anymore, my knots were gone (stress remained the same) and I was sleeping better at night. I’m going to say I am an AlignMed success story!
I plan to keep using my shirts here and there to keep my posture in check and I’ve adopted some new and useful habits that I’m going to share below. And remember what your mother told you…STAND UP STRAIGHT!
Over time, poor posture can take a serious toll on your spine, shoulders, hips, and knees. Years of misalignment can lead to back and joint pain, reduce flexibility, compromise muscles and impede ability to burn fat and build strength during your workouts. But there are some actions you can take (or not take) to help your posture:
Identify The Source
Back pain may be the result of poor ergonomics and posture. Pay attention if the pain is worse at specific times during the day (i.e. after sitting in front of a computer after a long day at work) or day of the week (i.e. during the week but not on weekends). Identifying this will help you pinpoint what activities may be contributing to your bad posture and pain.
Body In Alignment While Sitting
When standing, distribute body weight evenly to the front, back, and sides of the feet. Keep knees bent slightly and avoid locking them or resting weight on one hip. Stand up against a wall in front of a mirror to get a visual of what “good” posture looks like and what it feels like. It may feel awkward at first but I promise you, over time, it will begin to feel right.
Body In Alignment While Standing
While sitting in an office chair, keep your body in alignment with the back of the chair. This acts as a great built-in guide as to where your spine should be. Sit up straight and align the ears, shoulders, and hips in one vertical line. And even the best format will wain after any prolonged sitting position, so get up and stretch every 30 minutes. I like setting a timer on my cell phone to keep me on track. Even 1 minute of quick stretching makes a huge difference and allows you to reset your sitting posture to make sure you are aligned.
Get Up and Move
As your muscles tire, slouching, slumping, and other poor postures become more likely. These “tired” positions put extra strain on your neck and back which are big “no-no’s”. Change positions often no matter what you are doing in order to maintain a relaxed yet supported posture. Sit, stand, move, repeat!
Rethink Your Bags
Using purses, bags, and backpacks can weigh down shoulders and put uneven strain on your spine. Try and keep them as light as possible (yes ladies, that means cleaning out all the junk you’ve accumulated in your purse), don’t hold them longer than you have to and try to find designs that evenly distribute the weight throughout your torso (cross body or supportive backpacks).
Eyes Can Affect Your Back
One of the biggest culprits contributing to bad posture are people’s jobs. Think about it, you spend most of your waking hours there during the week, you sit hours on end in a chair staring at a computer screen and breaks may be minimal. Short of quitting your job, you can minimize the effects of the work week on your back and shoulders by always using proper corrective eyewear; positioning computer screens to your natural, resting eye position; making sure your chair is at a height that allows your arms to maintain a neutral position with your desk and computer.
Exercise Exercise Exercise
Regular exercise such as walking, swimming or bicycling, are not only great for keeping your weight in check, your heart healthy and your energy up; they are also key to good posture. When combined with specific strengthening exercises, these activities can help build up the muscles surrounding the back and spine adding extra support to help prevent injury. Don’t neglect your core muscles either as they are essential to supporting the upper body and maintaining good posture. Unless there is a fracture or other serious problem, the structures in the spine are designed for movement. Limiting motion will eventually cause weakness and thus more pain.
Wear Supportive Footwear
Avoid regularly wearing high-heeled shoes (I know ladies, not what you wanted to hear) but they affect the body’s center of gravity and cause compensatory alignment. Instead, wear supportive footwear and keep body positioning symmetrical.
Avoid Overprotecting Posture
Try and maintain an overall relaxed posture at all times. Avoid clenching muscles or sitting or standing in a stiff position. You know the “fight or flight” response? Unless you are being chased by a lion…don’t do it!
Retraining bad habits and body alignment may feel weird at first but I guarantee if you keep at it and are patient with yourself, you can and will achieve better posture and in return less pain, fewer aches and a more confident stance.