“Sit up straight!” That phrase may bring back bad memories of childhood, but there is something behind it. No, it’s not about showing respect or paying attention in class, but our posture is one of the biggest drivers of whether we develop back pain and has long-term implications for our mobility.
Millions of people in the US are dealing with back pain on a daily basis (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db415.htm), and nearly everyone will experience it at some point in their lives (https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Low-Back-Pain). It’s one of the most common forms of pain and has major implications for people’s ability to work and otherwise engage with their lives. If prevention is better than cure, you need to take steps to try to protect your back.
That’s easier said than done. The modern world is not set up to be good for our posture. Long hours hunched over our computers, followed by evenings slumped in front of the TV, are not helpful. Neither is the simple lack of time that prevents us from exercising as much as we know we probably should. It takes an active effort to try to maintain our posture.
We can also be deceived by our own eyes. Our brain naturally recalibrates to tell us we’re in a normal position, even when we’re out of line. If you want to check your posture, find a straight, flat wall and stand yourself against it. The back of your head, shoulder blades and bottom should all be in physical contact with the wall. The space between the wall and your neck or lower back shouldn’t be more than two inches. If you can’t do that, your posture is off.
There are obvious exercises you can do to work on your posture, with yoga moves like child’s pose or forward fold. During your working day, however, you just need to become more aware. Make the effort to lean your neck back without moving your chest instead of bending over your phone. Put things on higher shelves so you have an excuse to reach up. Set a timer so you know when it’s time to stand up and have a stretch after an hour’s intense work.
Standing, stretching and moving are all key parts of correcting poor posture. First, however, you just need to breathe. Check in with yourself regularly and make sure you’re not letting it slip.