ARE you hunched over your phone or computer reading this right now? We thought so!
Poor posture is something we’re all guilty of at times.
You’re likely to put your body into all sorts of awkward positions on any given day, but this can wreak havoc on your muscles, skeleton and overall health.
Being hunched, slumped or sleeping uncomfortably can prompt pain, stiffness and headaches, and in the longer-term, lead to poor alignment and posture.
“Alignment refers to how the head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles relate and line up with each other,” says physiotherapist Sammy Margo from Mind Your Back (mindyourbackuk.com), a campaign to help people manage and prevent back pain.
“Proper alignment of the body puts less stress on the spine and helps you have good posture.”
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Here, Sammy shares her tips for tackling bad habits and improving posture.
Bad habit: Wearing a heavy bag
Many of us are guilty of over packing before we head out the door, carrying a bag – usually on one shoulder – that’s overstuffed and too heavy, which can be really detrimental.
Sammy said: “The natural slope of the shoulder means you have to lift the shoulder blade to prevent a one-shoulder bag from sliding off.
“Your body adapts to the weight of the bag causing you to forget, or be unaware of, how heavy it is.
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“This can cause neck, shoulder and back pain, numbness and tingling, headaches and even postural imbalances.”
You don’t have to ditch your favourite bag, she says, but be aware of how and what you’re carrying.
“Think of it as exercise for your core. Wearing a bag on your shoulder makes you bend at the side more, so alternate the side daily.
“With a cross body bag, think about pulling your shoulders back.
“The main thing is to make sure the bag is not too heavy and to not carry it in the same way every day.”
Bad habit: Not exercising properly
Core strength is important for posture and alignment.
“It provides good support for your spine, helps strengthen your back muscles and prevent backache,” says Sammy, but it doesn’t have to mean doing 100 sit-ups a day.
Sammy said: “Aim for the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise a week.
“Walking, cycling, dancing, yoga and swimming are all great options to keep your spine supple and your muscles moving.”
If you do go to the gym, don’t be embarrassed about asking for advice and if you prefer to workout in private, there are helpful exercises you can do at home.
Sammy suggests doing the ‘swimming’ exercise:
- Lie face down and stretch your arms out in front of you, palms down. Engage your butt and pull in your tummy muscles.
- Slowly lift your right arm and left leg off the mat, lifting your head and neck slightly keeping your gaze down while stretching diagonally.
- Take a couple of breaths and slowly lower your arm and leg. Then swap to your left arm and right leg.
- Try to stretch a bit further each time. Repeat twice.
Bad habit: Wearing the wrong footwear
Our poor feet go through a lot and can end up as neglected as our footwear.
Heels, ill-fitting shoes, flat shoes with no arch support and soft, unsupportive trainers can all be problematic.
Sammy said: “The wrong footwear can cause stiffening and changes to posture as well as intervertebral disc compression, which can cause back pain.
“If the heel on shoes becomes angled, it will alter every step you take and cause pain in the back or leg.
“If you can’t get the heel fixed, replace the shoes.
“Running shoes can cause pain before they look worn.
“This is because they lose the capacity to absorb shock and running shoes older than a year may also cause pain because of exposure to humidity or heat.”
If you need to replace anything, Sammy recommends looking for shoes that “have a stiff back, bend where your toes bend, provide arch support and are wide enough and long enough so that your toes are not pushed and curled.”
Bad habit: Looking down at your phone
We spend around 4.8hours a day looking at our phones according to the app Annie's State of Mobile report.
It sounds like a lot – and it can be, especially for our poor necks.
Sammy said: “When looking down at our phone, we place our necks into an overstressed curve as the neck has to carry the head in an unnatural position.
“This places great strain on your spine and causes a lot of tension on your neck and shoulders.
“Tech neck symptoms commonly include pain in the neck, upper back and/or shoulder.
“This pain may be in one specific spot and feel intense or stabbing, or it may be a general achiness and soreness that covers a broader part of the body, like from the bottom of the neck and into the shoulder or shoulders.”
To counteract issues, Sammy recommends avoiding looking down as you walk: “Wait until you’re sitting or standing comfortably and look at a screen at eye level and aim to have your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle in line.”
Bad habit: Sitting hunched over your laptop
It is quite normal to find yourself sitting in all sorts of strange poses during work.
“Sitting hunched causes poor spinal and neck alignment, back and neck pain, tingling in hands and fingers (including carpal tunnel syndrome), leg pain, tingling in feet and toes and can even cause heartburn and even stress incontinence,” says Sammy, who advises using a laptop stand that keeps your laptop at eye level.
“This could even be a small desk at which you can stand and move about.
“Or prop up the laptop with books and place one at the back too to angle the laptop appropriately.
“Otherwise, position the laptop on any taller object to get it at eye level and use a second keyboard and mouse,” she notes.
“Set a reminder on your phone or alarm clock to get up and go for a walk round the room or office every 45 minutes or so and incorporate stretches into your daily routine.”
Try this neck stretch:
- Sit upright with both feet flat on the floor and your back straight.
- Take a few deep breaths in and out.
- Once comfortable, slowly roll your head to one side and then roll it forward, chin to chest, following in a circle to the other side.
- Repeat this slow and controlled movement pattern as you roll back to the first side.
Never roll your head directly to the back. Hold the stretch for ten to 15 seconds on each side and repeat as necessary.
Bad habit: Sleeping awkwardly
You snuggle into bed and fall asleep, but wake up with a crick in your neck and aches all over – how you snooze can really affect your comfort and alignment.
“Different sleeping patterns affect the amount and site of pressure on the back and the natural curvature of the spine.
“It is why poor sleep posture causes overall aches and pains, sometimes tingling and numbness. Back pain is common, too,” says Sammy.
Sleeping on your back: “This causes the least amount of pressure. Use pillows under your neck and knees.
“A firm mattress is helpful as it supports the pressure points on your spine.
“A mid-height pillow (approx. four inches) is best for back sleepers to keep the spine in alignment.”
Sleeping on your side: “This is the next best position. Use thin pillows under your knees and consider a hybrid or memory foam mattress.
“A mattress that contours to the shape of your body and provides adequate pressure relief is the best choice as it helps decrease the impact of side sleep on the shoulder and lower back.”
Sleeping on your stomach: “This is the most stressful sleeping position, but if you are devoted to it, try to keep your head straight to relieve pressure on your neck.
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“Placing a firm pillow under your forehead can create enough space for you to breathe when your head is facing down.
“A firm pillow under the abdomen can also help to keep the spine straight. As with back sleepers, a firm mattress is helpful.”
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