Posture and Back Pain
Back pain is a national problem. It is one of the most common causes of long-term sickness among workers in the UK.
Almost half the adult population of the UK (49%) report low back pain lasting for at least 24 hours at some time in the year and the National Health Service spends more than £1 billion per year on back pain related costs (www.backcare.org.uk)
About 8 in 10 people in the UK suffer one or more bouts of lower back pain during their lives. (www.patient.co.uk)
According to the NHS, approximately 2.8 million working days were lost in 2013/14 (www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/musculoskeletal/msd.pdf), so it’s important to think about your back and posture during your day to day activity
Why is good posture important?
Think of all those bad habits that you’ve adopted over the years… from cradling the phone in the crook of your neck, to sitting at a desk with your legs crossed, and hobbling around in uncomfortable shoes – they’re all linked to bad posture and can cause long-term problems if you don’t make changes.
From slumping in front of the TV after a long day, to hunching over our computer screens; we spend an extraordinary amount of our lives sitting down.
The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) reports that 82 per cent of us spend six hours or more a day sitting in front of a computer screen, and 49 per cent watch between two and six hours of TV a day
Good posture is critically important because it trains the body to stand, walk, sit and lie in correct positions where there is least strain on the supporting muscles and joints during everyday activities.
Bad posture can lead to muscle fatigue, changes in coordination and movement stability and, as a result, an increased risk of muscle, tendon and ligament injuries such as shoulder disorders and chronic neck pain.
Even if you’re not chained to a desk, chances are your posture is less than perfect. Carrying a child on one hip, heavy handbags; even wearing the wrong size bra can all affect the way you carry yourself. So, too, can your footwear – and high heels aren’t the only culprits – flip flops and Ugg-type boots can be just as bad.
One in three people suffers back and neck pain on a daily basis, but poor posture can also cause many less obvious symptoms, including headaches, joint pain and weakness, lethargy, breathlessness and anxiety. It can even affect your digestive system, which is effectively squashed if you’re not sitting or standing straight.
Most people don’t seek help until they’re experiencing posture has a cumulative effect, however, even if you’re not aware of a problem now, you could be storing up trouble for years to come – and the last straw could be something as simple as bending over to tie your shoelaces.
How can I improve my posture?
The good news is that it’s never too late to correct your posture – with some small changes and increased awareness of the way you carry yourself, you can bring your body back into alignment – and find yourself literally walking taller.
While therapies can correct your alignment, the key to maintaining good posture is to make small but significant changes to your lifestyle, such as swapping from a heavy shoulder bag to one with a cross-body strap, being properly fitted for a supportive bra and rethinking your footwear. Alternate your shoes so you don’t wear the same heel height every day, and, if you’re partial to high heels, do some core stability exercises like pilates to compensate.
Raising your awareness of your posture also helps. Try pulling your abdominal muscles in all the way, releasing by 50 per cent and holding them in that position all day to improve your posture,
SITTING AT HOME
Modern sofas and cushioned chairs can encourage poor posture as the soft upholstery may not give the spine and neck the support that is required, Sitting in a slumped position can add a tremendous amount of pressure to your back and lead to ongoing aches and pains.
Try to resist the temptation to slouch and instead sit up straight, into the back of the chair or sofa with your knees lower than your hips and your feet flat on the floor. This is a more supportive position to boost good posture.
SITTING AT WORK
Many of us sit for hours on end at a desk when we’re working. It can put severe strain on your back. Slouching and poor posture when using a computer can cause all sorts of neck and back problems.
Make sure you’re positioned directly in front of your computer with both legs parallel and feet flat on the floor, so that your body is not subjected to unnecessary rotation, which in the long term can cause pain and discomfort.
Sitting still for too long isn’t good for your posture. Don’t sit for more than 20-30 minutes at a time – stand up regularly to stretch, change position and walk around a little.
If you struggle to manage this, then gently massage the back of your head and neck. This helps to reduce back pain by promoting balance, strength and flexibility in the spine.
Add just a few minutes’ walking to your daily routine, too. Walk to the shops instead of driving, or take the stairs instead of the lift.
Musculoskeletal pain connected to poor posture is often intensified by mental and social stress at home or work.
Stress can have a direct link to how we carry ourselves physically. A stressed person typically elevates their shoulders with their head positioned in a downward position. And if the stress continues for long periods it can result in muscle soreness, muscle shortening and a build-up of tension in the neck and shoulder region.
Try easy exercises you can do at your desk, such as neck and shoulder rolls. They help lengthen the neck muscles and stretch out shortened muscles.
Pilates is another exercise regime that can help improve your posture. It increases your awareness of how your body is aligned, and allows the spine to move in all four directions – forwards, backwards, sideways and in rotation. It activates muscles that are underused in our daily life.
This, in turn helps reduce the strain on the body. If your body is correctly aligned, the muscles needn’t work so hard. Pilates also improves the strength and stability of your core muscles, which are essential for good posture. Over time, your body subconsciously takes on the lessons learned in class, so you naturally develop better posture.