At day’s end, your neck and shoulders yowl at you like nipping pups, and your back feels tighter than a fiddler’s string. A little attention to your posture may help.
Good posture reduces pressure on the spine, which in turn helps prevent or relieve pain—plus, it makes you look good. Straightening up is also the best way to ease the path of fluid, oxygen and nutrients to the discs so they stay plumped up, easing the stress endured by your spine, says Dr. Charles D. Rosen, clinical professor of orthopedic surgery and founding director of the University of California-Irvine Spine Center. “The spine is not meant to be twisted over or bent to the side. That’s how you can injure yourself.”
Thankfully, little tweaks to your stance throughout the day can add up to overall improvements in your posture. Use these no matter where you are and what you’re doing.
- Standing in line: “Stand with your low back arched a little”—meaning your butt is slightly out—“shoulders back, your head balanced over your spine,” Rosen says. When you slump, all the pressure is on your discs. Stand straighter, and both the discs and the bones in back of each vertebrae support your weight.
- Carrying bags: Keep a small arch in your back, head up, shoulders back. “Make sure the bags or suitcases contain equal weight,” Rosen says. “You don’t want one pulling your spine to the side.”
- On a plane: Put a pillow behind your back to keep that little arch. “And don’t bend forward at the neck when you read,” Rosen says. “Put a magazine in front of you with your elbows on the tray table.” Get up and move every 45 minutes too. Motion helps nutrients and fluid move into the discs.
- Watching TV: Lie down on your back with your legs bent at the knee. “This position puts the least pressure on your discs,” Rosen says. If you’re sitting, lean a bit backward, your back flexed. And put a pillow under your knees, to flex your legs, relieving pressure on the spine.
- Playing video games: “Sit upright with a little arch in your back, shoulders back,” Rosen says. “Keep your head balanced over your spine, not flexed forward.” And move around often.
- Working on the computer: Use a lumbar pillow to arch your back. Place the computer screen so your face is level, your neck unbent, says Rosen: “That will prevent fatigue.”
Exercise to Good Posture
Exercise is critical to good posture, strengthening the spine, says orthopedic surgeon Charles Rosen: “And it makes the ligaments and joints flexible so they can move and nourish the spine.” Here are two easy posture exercises:
Half sit-ups. Lie down on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, hands behind your head. Curl up half way. “That strengthens the front of the body that supports the spine,” says Rosen.
Back extensions. Lie down on your stomach, arms at your sides. Then lift your legs and feet. Hold for a few seconds and relax. These strengthen the back muscles.