Proper posture simply refers to maintaining the body in a position which protects against excessive stresses which cause injury, while requiring a minimal amount of muscular effort to maintain. In other words, a comfortable position which will not irritate your spinal tissues.
Posture plays a significant role in the development of chronic conditions such as chronic back and neck pain. Poor posture is responsible for overstretching ligaments and other supportive spinal structures as well as exhausting spinal musculature, all of which quickly leads to the development of chronic spinal pain.
Learning and practicing proper postural habits will help reduce the likelihood of acquiring back and neck injuries, reduce spinal degeneration, and help keep your spine and body happy and healthy.
Proper Seated Posture
Prolonged sitting is a frequent cause of back and neck pain. And while extended periods of sitting are best avoided, for many, it's a fact of life.
When sitting, it's important to keep the back straight, knees bent, and head centered over the shoulders. Slouching forward may be comfortable and allow the spinal muscles to relax but gradually overstretches spinal ligaments, leading to back and neck pain among other problems. We always encourage patients to maintain a "neutral spine" position at all time is ideal.
Seat Backrest - The proper chair has a backrest which slightly inclines backwards. This has the effect of relaxing the spinal musculature and decreasing spinal discal pressure.
Armrests - Armrests provide support for the arms which helps to reduce the work load and stress on the trapezius and shoulder muscles. The armrest height should allow the forearms to comfortably rest while being low enough to go underneath tables or desks in the work area.
Lumbar Support - Having a lumbar support either built into the chair or inserting a portable lumbar support helps to maintain your natural lower back curve. These small supports are quite handy, effective and relatively inexpensive.
Seat Bottom Angle - The seat angle relative to the floor is more of a personal preference than an exact science, as long as a neutral spine can be maintained in comfort. In general, the more the seat bottom tilts forward the more extension of your lower back will occur to keep you in a neutral position.
Seat Height - The height of the seat should be so that it allows you to sit all the way back in the seat while your feet are still able to reach the floor. If they can't and you're stuck with the chair, use a footrest to remedy the problem.
In addition to the suggestions provided above, it's important to:
- be aware of your posture throughout the day and be sure to maintain a neutral spine -no slouching
- take mini breaks on a regular basis when in a prolonged position and remember to stretch
- have the right equipment and tools for working in a prolonged position, use ergonomically designed furniture and keep a lumbar support in your car for "chair crises"
Proper Standing Posture
Although standing is something we do everyday most of us have never really given "the art of proper standing" a second thought. Many people are actually unaware that their standing habits can contribute to their back and neck problems.
If you're one of those people, the following "general standing guidelines" should help you out.
General Rules For Standing
- maintain a straight spine rather than slouching to the side
- avoid slouching forward or hyperextending
- keep the chin up with the head centered over the shoulders
- keep the feet slightly less than shoulder width apart
- keep the knees slightly bent
- wear comfortable shoes and leave the heels at home
- avoid standing still for long periods of time, rather, sit down or move around
Proper Lying Posture
Approximately 1/3 of our life is spent lying in bed, on the couch, and on the floor. Like other positions, there is a right way and a wrong way to lie. For individuals suffering from pain, modifications may be necessary to obtain a "pain-free" position or a position which does not aggravate the pain.
Lying On Your Stomach
Extended periods of "stomach lying" should be avoided. This is because excessive stress is placed on the joints of the low back and because excessive rotation must take place in the neck. Neck pain, back pain, headaches, dizziness, as well as arm paresthesias are commonly experienced when in this position for an extended period of time. If you must lie in this position to relieve pain or for some other reason, keep one leg bent with the same side arm raised with approximately 90 degrees of flexion at the shoulder and elbow joints.
Lying On Your Back
Most people find lying on their back to be a relatively comfortable position. For individuals suffering from back problems, placing a folded pillow underneath the knees will help reduce tension in the lower back and make this position more tolerable. Some individuals may also find placing a small pillow or towel under their lower back to be helpful. This will help to maintain the natural curve of the lumbar spine.
Lying On Your Side
Lying on your side is a favored position by many individuals. It may also be a comfortable position that provides relief for individuals with back problems. It's important while in this position to have adequate support for the head and neck. A pillow which fills the gap between the head/neck and the bed should be used to keep the head and neck in line with the rest of the spine. Additionally, placing a pillow between the knees will help reduce lumbar and pelvic torsion. Women with larger hip and small waists will find a small pillow under the waist will prevent lateral bending of the spine while lying on the side.
Choosing A Pillow
Choosing a pillow which supports the cervical spine is extremely important, especially for those with neck or upper back problems as well as those with a history of headaches. There are a number of cervical pillows on the market, however, many of the inexpensive pillows (those under $20) are poorly designed with rigid foam which does not conform to the natural contours of the head and neck. Look for a cervical pillow which will contour to the shape and size of your head and neck while still providing support. Don't be scared to spend a little extra on a high quality pillow - it's well worth the money, and besides, it's something you'll use everyday.