Correcting Bad Posture

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Monday 11th October 2010
In this article
  • Good posture habits.
  • Exercises for correcting posture.
  • Treatments and techniques for posture improvement.

Did you know that moving your head forward just two centimeters from your ideal balanced position increases the strain on your shoulder and neck muscles by 10 times? That's how easy it is to put your body out of natural alignment and develop bad posture habits. From then on it’s a vicious cycle of problems, from slumped shoulders to curved spine, tensed muscles and aching bones.

It's not surprising, therefore, that so many SharpMen tend to have sub-optimal posture. The most obvious effect is a slumped look that conveys a lack of confidence. Internally there can be other, more serious problems. Holding your body, walking or sitting incorrectly leads to tense muscles, unnatural strain on ligaments and joints, improperly aligned bones, headaches, fatigue, shoulder, neck and back pain, and adverse effects on the position and function of internal organs. Check out the 411 on poor posture and how to remedy it:

Problematic Posture

The two most common posture problems are swayback and slouching. Swayback is a large curve of the spine, while slouching occurs when the back leans forward and the shoulders are rolled inwards.

Overall, bad posture stems from the development of bad standing, walking and sitting habits. The new movements become second nature and eventually the correct posture begins to feel uncomfortable. Does any of this sound like you? Think it’s too late to change? Think again. With practice, you can develop proper habits and walk straight and tall.

Good Posture Habits

How’s your posture? What looks fine to you may actually look like a "walking question mark" to others. To find out how straight your back really is, ask a friend or doctor to analyze the way you walk, sit and stand. Alternatively, watch your reflection as you walk past a storefront. Are your shoulders slumped forward? Is your head down? Or do you hold your back stiff with your head thrown forward? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, consider revamping your posture habits. Try the following:

Sleep correctly. Sleep on your back or on your side. Never sleep on your front.

If you like to sleep on your back, place a pillow under your head and shoulders, a rolled up towel under your neck, and a pillow under your knees. This gives maximum support to your spine.

For those who sleep on their side, place a pillow under your head, making sure your neck is supported and your head is level with the rest of your spine. Place a small pillow between your knees, and keep them bent. Try not to roll forward. If you do have this habit, a pillow in front of your chest should prevent it.

Lift with your knees. When lifting objects, bend at the knees and use your leg and stomach muscles to lift, not your back. If you find that you can’t help but lift with your back, consider getting a weight belt for the gym and other lifting activities.

Carry things close to your chest. When carrying heavy items, hold them close to your chest to take away some of the strain from your shoulders and back.

Stand with one raised foot. If you have to stand for a sustained amount of time, place one foot on a stool, changing feet often. If you can't use a footstool, shift your weight often, bending slightly at the knees, while keeping your spine straight.

Support lower back while sitting. When sitting for long periods of time, place a rolled towel or cushion behind your lower back and push your buttocks into the back of the chair. It's good to have your knees level with, or slightly above, the hips. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor — don’t cross your legs.

Adjust driving seat. While driving, sit with your back firmly against the seat back and adjust the seat so you don't have to lean forward or stretch. Position the headrest to support the middle of your head.

Walk straight. Keep your head up and eyes straight ahead. Your shoulders should be held back but not tensed. Make sure you are not pushing your head forward.

Stretch regularly. If you sit for long periods of time, stretch your muscles regularly. One good method is to look up, raise your arms over your head, inhale deeply and hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat the process six times. Slowly roll your head clockwise three times and then counterclockwise three times. It also helps to stand up and walk around.

Get regular exercise and eat properly. Overall health always helps to maintain your body’s top form. Exercises like cycling or swimming are particularly beneficial three times a week. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and drink lots of water. And never forget to recharge the body with regular, quality sleep.

Exercises for Correcting Posture

Developing good habits is one part of maintaining a good posture, but you’ll also need to correct existing problems. How do you do that? By loosening up tense muscle groups. Many physical problems stem from tense muscles. You can alleviate some of these problems with regular stretching. The following are stretching exercises specifically designed to stretch muscle groups that encourage good posture:

Neck flexes. Hold shoulders in a relaxed position and lower your head by tucking your chin in towards your chest. Hold for five seconds and gently raise head back up. Now tilt head back as far as you can and hold for five seconds. Repeat the process five times. Next, swivel head around to the right and hold for five seconds. Bring head back to the center and then look around to the left. Repeat this process five times.

Shoulder flexes. Loosen and relax shoulders, then raise them up to your ears holding them tight for five seconds. Let shoulders drop into a relaxed position. Repeat five times.

Side stretches. Sit upright in a chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground. With your right hand firmly holding the seat of the chair, gently lean toward the left. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five times. Change to the left hand and do five stretches.

Back stretches. Get on your hands and knees on the floor. Keep your hands flat on the ground, about shoulder width apart and your knees hip-width apart. Arch your back up as far as you can (like a cat arching its back). Hold the position for a few seconds. Now walk your hands forward to stretch out your back as far as is comfortable. Hold the position for a few seconds. Repeat five times.

Treatments and Techniques for Posture Improvement

Have you tried the steps above, but your posture still needs improvement? You may need help from back treatment professionals. This type of therapy comes in many flavors. Below you’ll find a listing of available alternatives. Speak with your physician about the treatment best suited to your condition.

Massage. (http://massagenetwork.com) Probably the most relaxing and enjoyable method, massage aims to stretch and relax muscles. There are a few different types of massage available and it is recommended that you go to a professional qualified to perform the type of massage you choose.

The most common type of massage is the Swedish Massage. The treatment includes a variety of hand manipulations aimed at relaxing your muscles, including rubbing and kneading muscles and gently beating on your back with the sides of the masseuse’s hands to loosen muscles and increase circulation (think "karate").

Rolfing is a more extreme massage where the muscles are deeply compressed, forcing the body back to its "natural shape." It can be quite painful but effective.

Reflexology has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity. The theory behind this treatment is that the soles of the feet have key pressure points connected to all areas of the body. A reflexology massage focuses on the feet and these pressure points.

Yoga. (http://www.yogasite.com) Through a combination of gentle stretching, relaxation and breathing techniques, yoga aims to relieve the internal stress and tension that can cause bad posture.

Alexander Technique. (http://www.easyposture.com) This form of stretching also aims to alleviate tension in the neck and body that can lead to bad posture habits. Lessons include instruction on new ways to sit, stand, breathe and move, all with an eye towards minimizing pressure on the body and allowing freer, easier movement.

Somatics. (http://www.somatics.com) Practitioners of this form of exercise also believe that muscular tension that drags the body into an unnatural state is responsible for bad posture. Somatics aims to correct this by making participants aware of movements and natural muscular control. You will learn to recognize and eliminate tension in your body. The movements are slow and easy, concentrating on the feeling of different bodily movements, ranging from deliberate muscular contractions to total relaxation.

Chiropractic. (http://www.chiropractor.com) Chiropractors hold the view that a correctly positioned body incurs a minimum of strain on muscles, ligaments, bones and joints. Likewise, any deviation from the exact ideal position causes considerable posture problems. As such, a chiropractor’s goal is to keep your body properly positioned — or aligned — with particular attention to the position and curve of the spine. Through manipulation techniques, the chiropractor re-aligns the body back to the correct position, thus facilitating improved posture. (Also see SharpHealth’s article Physical Therapy or Chiropractic Care: Which Is Best for You?).

This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010
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