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Advice on Posture & Back Pain

What makes a bad posture?

Any position that exerts undue strain on the musculoskeleton. Ergonomics involves principles of biomechanics, physiology, even sociology and psychology, but the essence is simple: Design the task/equipment to the human and minimise the factors that influence bad posture.

What factors influence bad posture?

  • Design of equipment
  • Design of the task
  • Frequency/repetition of task

Bad posture can be affected by almost anything, and it is the role of ergonomics to design equipment and design tasks that fit the capabilities and stature of the human body. Asking a man of 5 feet to place a heavy object on a high shelf repetitively for a long time is going to result in a bad posture. Asking a person to sit in a chair that is too small for them is going to result in poor posture. Despite what our teachers said about putting in maximum effort, when it comes to our posture, we should be performing tasks with the minimum effort.

What makes good posture?

• A Neutral / Relaxed Posture

When the body is relaxed, with all the muscles and tendons in a resting state, then it could be said to be a good posture. But can we ever achieve a neutral posture when we are working? Unfortunately not. Whether involved in hard physical labour, or sitting at a computer, our muscles are always working, even if they are not moving. This 'work' exerts force and strain on our musculoskeleton, and it is the extent of strain that determines the effects on the body.

What can be done to improve posture?

  1. Better equipment
  2. Training

The following exercises and tips are listed on the NHS website to help alleviate muscle tension caused by poor sitting and standing habits.

Physiotherapist Nick Sinfield describes eight common posture mistakes and how to correct them with strength and stretching exercises.

If you have back pain, improving your posture is unlikely to address the root cause of your pain, but it may help alleviate muscle tension.

"Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become so used to sitting and standing in a particular way," says Sinfield.

"But with a bit of practise, good posture will become second nature and be one step to helping your back in the long term."

1. Slouching in a chair

Slouching doesn't always cause discomfort, but over time this position can place strain on already sensitised muscles and soft tissues.

This strain may increase tension in the muscles, which may in turn cause pain.   

Get into the habit of sitting correctly. It may not feel comfortable initially because your muscles have not been conditioned to support you in the correct position.

Exercises to strengthen your core and buttock muscles, and back extensions, will help correct a slouching posture.

Exercises to correct a slumping posture:

  • bridges
  • back extensions
  • plank

2. Sticking your bottom out

If your bottom tends to stick out or you have a pronounced curve in your lower back, you may have hyperlordosis. This is an exaggerated inward curve of the lower back that creates a "Donald Duck" posture.

Core and buttock strengthening exercises, hip flexor and thigh stretches, and making a conscious effort to correct your standing posture are recommended to help correct a sticking out bottom.

Wearing high heels, excessive weight around the stomach and pregnancy can all contribue to a "Donald Duck" posture.

Exercises to correct a "Donald Duck" posture:

  • plank
  • side-lying leg raises
  • hip flexor stretches
  • standing thigh stretch 

To help correct your standing posture, imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards.

The idea is to keep your body in perfect alignment, maintaining the spine's natural curvature, with your neck straight and shoulders parallel with the hips:

  • keep your shoulders back and relaxed
  • pull in your abdomen
  • keep your feet about hip distance apart
  • balance your weight evenly on both feet
  • try not to tilt your head forward, backwards or sideways
  • keep your legs straight, but knees relaxed

3. Standing with a flat back

A flat back means your pelvis is tucked in and your lower back is straight instead of naturally curved, causing you to stoop forward. People with a flat back often find it difficult standing for long periods.

This posture is often caused by muscle imbalances, which encourage you to adopt such a position. Spending long periods sitting down can also contribute to a flat back. 

A flat back also tends to make you lean your neck and head forwards, which can cause neck and upper back strain.

Exercises to strengthen your core, buttocks, neck and rear shoulder muscles, and back extensions, are recommended to help correct a flat back.

Exercises to correct a flat back:

  • plank
  • side-lying leg raises
  • chest stretches
  • seated rows in a gym, or pull-ups
  • back extensions

4. Leaning on one leg

Leaning more on 1 leg while standing can feel comfortable, especially if you have been standing for a while. But instead of using your buttocks and core muscles to keep you upright, you place excessive pressure on 1 side of your lower back and hip.

Over time, you may develop muscle imbalances around the pelvis area, which can cause muscular strain in the lower back and buttocks.

Other causes of uneven hips include carrying heavy backpacks on 1 shoulder, and parents carrying toddlers on 1 hip.

To improve this posture, try to get into the habit of standing with your weight evenly distributed on both legs.

Exercises to strengthen your buttocks and core muscles will help correct uneven hips:

  • plank
  • side-lying leg raises
  • bridges

5. Hunched back and 'text neck'

Hunching over your keyboard is usually a sign that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back. Over time, this type of posture can contribute to you developing a rounded upper back, which can cause shoulder and upper back stiffness.

When hunching over a computer, your head may tend to lean forward, which can lead to poor posture. Using a mobile can cause similar problems dubbed "text neck".

Upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises, chest stretches and neck posture drills are recommended to help correct a hunched back.

Exercises to correct a hunched back:

  • gently lengthening your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • seated rows in a gym or pull-ups
  • chest stretches

6. Poking your chin

The poking chin posture can be caused by sitting too low, a screen set too high, a hunched back, or a combination of all 3.

Correcting a poking chin involves improving your sitting habits and exercises to correct your posture.

How to correct a poking chin:

  • gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • bring your shoulder blades down and back towards your spine
  • pull in your lower tummy muscles to maintain a natural curve in your lower back
  • adjust your seating

7. Rounded shoulders

A way to tell if you have rounded shoulders is to stand in front of a mirror and let your arms hang naturally by your sides. If your knuckles face forward, it may indicate that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back, giving the appearance of rounded shoulders.

Rounded shoulders are typically caused by poor posture habits, muscle imbalances and focusing too much on certain exercises, such as too much focus on chest strength while neglecting the upper back.

Exercises to strengthen your core, upper back and chest muscles will help correct rounded shoulders:

  • plank
  • bridges
  • seated rows in a gym or pull-ups
  • chest stretches

8. Cradling your phone

Holding your phone handset between your ear and shoulder places strain on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders. The neck and shoulders are not designed to hold this position for any length of time.

Over time, this posture can place strain on the muscles and other soft tissues, and lead to muscle imbalances between the left and right side of your neck. 

Try to get into the habit of holding the phone with your hand, or use a hands-free device.

Exercises for neck stiffness and pain:

  • chest stretches
  • neck stretches – gently lower your left ear towards your left shoulder; hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths, then repeat on opposite side
  • neck rotations – slowly turn your chin towards 1 shoulder; hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths, then repeat on opposite side

For specific advice on back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders we would suggest the following websites: BUPA, NHS

For more help and advice please call us on 01629 814656.

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