We know and I’m sure you know, that sitting hunched over a desk all day is not ideal posture. It has been suggested by many researchers that this posture is actually killing us slowly….responsible for problems such as organ damage, muscle degeneration, circulatory problems to name a few (click here for the ‘Health Hazards of Sitting’). As musculoskeletal specialists, worried by these potential issues, we are also concerned by other problems that result from this poor posture, namely a bad back. Whether that is neck, upper back (often in association with shoulder) or low back pain, we see these in abundance at the clinic and more often than not, posture is to blame.
Obviously poor posture affects the low back, but in this feature, we’d like to focus on the upper back and neck.
Despite our best intentions, we all spend too long sitting at our desks. Our message is always try and sit in good posture, take breaks and move/stretch regularly. All to regularly we find ourselves slumping, slouching, basically slipping into poor posture.
Our spine has three natural curves, the cervical (at the neck), thoracic (through the ribs) and lumbar (above the hips). These curves need to be present to keep us flexible, mobile and absorb external forces. By sitting or standing in a slouched position, we exaggerate these curves in the upper back, putting pressure through the joints and causing muscle imbalance. The thoracic spine is over bent forwards into flexion, and to stop ourselves looking down at the floor, we then lift our heads up forcing the neck into over extension.
This position puts great strain and imbalance on the muscles and both pressure and shearing through the joints. At the neck, the muscles in the front of the neck become weak while under a stretched position and the muscles in the back of the neck shorten and tighten. Couple this with the shoulder complex, where the pectoral (chest) muscles shorten from the constant shoulders forward posture, and the muscles between the scapular (shoulder blades) as well as the traps (top of shoulders) tighten, you become very restricted in movement and open to potentially painful symptoms.
In this slouch position, your shoulder mobility and function is compromised. To demonstrate this, try this simple exercise…..slouch over (sitting or standing) with your upper back rounded, now try to lift your arms out to the side and up as far as you can. Perform the same movement again, this time with your shoulders back and down. Spot the difference? Stay in this slouched position for hours at a time, you won’t be surprised that over the years, your body will adapt to this posture and may result in mobility shoulder issues and the possibility of resembling Quasimodo in your latter years!
Your neck will also suffer from this over extension, and likely to produce tension headaches and further painful complications or restrictive movement in the upper back and neck region.
So what can be done?
Prevention is better than cure – heard that before? But it’s very true. Maintaining good posture 24 hours a day is not easy (yes our body is affected by our sleeping posture too), but every little helps.
Move – get up from your desk at least every half and hour. If you are driving, take breaks when you can and when you do roll your shoulders out and have a good walk around.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” Plato
Timer – regularly check your posture – set a timer initially for every 15 mins, take stock of your position, you may need to sit up, tighten your abs (tummy muscles) and roll your shoulders back and pull your scapulae (shoulder blades) gently back and down. Is your chin protruding forwards? Tuck it back (not down), ears over shoulders and lengthen neck/back. Once you find yourself more aware of your posture, you won’t need to keep checking. For advice on posture, you can speak to any of our musculoskeletal specialists (chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists) or our personal trainers.
Driving – the same test can be performed in the car, every time you stop at the lights, check your position. If you’ve set your rear-view mirror while sitting correctly, you will notice if you have slouched because it won’t be in the optimal position.
Exercise – exercises that include core work and stretching, are helpful to improve and maintain posture – Pilates, Yoga and Core specific exercises work on the abdominals as well as the shoulder girdle, opening up the chest, strengthening the shoulders and upper back – helping to keep you sitting/standing tall.
Massage – treatment into tight/overused as well as weak stretched muscles can help free up the body to allow an improved posture to develop. Repetitive exercises will have little effect if they are constantly pulled back into the old posture.
Invest the time and energy into your improved posture and you will reap the benefits – you’ll feel and see the difference, and more importantly, it will become natural. Avenger posture here we come!