According to Ben McChesney, Osteopath at Pure Sports Medicine, the most common causes of poor posture are lack of regular exercise and long periods of time spent hunched over at a desk. As a result, muscles and wrappings of muscles and connective tissues of the body, called fascia, shorten.
As well as making you look hunched this can limit your ability to move, reducing the effectiveness of the diaphragm which reduces oxygenation, and impairing our digestive system. These can lead to problems such as fatigue, headaches, poor concentration and of course, immobility, stiffness or bone movement.
According to chiropractor Dominic Cheetham, (www.sloanesquarechiropractors.com), you can improve your posture by making some small adjustments to the way you sit at your desk and by the way you hold yourself when standing. Here are his top tips...
Sitting at your desk:
- Your computer screen should be positioned so the middle of the screen is at eye level (when sitting in a totally upright position).
- Each time you step away from your desk clasp your hands together and hold them up in front of you, pushing your shoulders forward and drawing the head back, looking up at the ceiling. This stretches your muscles out and pulls them back into alignment.
- Don’t cross your legs while sitting at your desk, it can cause the hips to move out of line, which as a result can cause problems in the upper back.
- Be aware of your posture all the time. Do you slouch while writing? Lean forward when looking at something in detail? Find a cue that happens often, such as a phone ringing or a door closing, and check your posture when it occurs. Then correct yourself. Your head should be placed squarely atop your neck, shoulders upright, back is arched in toward the front and arms relaxed.
- Change your mouse from left to right hand every few days to keep the body in balance.
- Make sure your weight is evenly distributed on your feet when you stand – you might feel as if you are leaning forward, but you’re not. The spine has two natural curves that you need to maintain: the "double C" or "S" curves found from the base of your head to your shoulders and the curve from the upper back to the base of the spine.
- Using a mirror, align your ears, shoulders, and hips. Proper alignment places your ears loosely above your shoulders, above your hips. These points make a straight line, but the spine itself curves in a slight "S".
- Repeat this simple stretch ten times: align your ears over your shoulders, raise both arms straight up, alongside your ears. Bend your forearms to your shoulders and touch your shoulder blades. Using the same procedure, raise both arms out to your sides at shoulder height, hold for a slow count of ten and slowly lower.
- Make sure the weight of your upper body sits on the hips squarely, rather than on the lower back by ensuring the pelvis is tucked underneath you. This ensures you don’t over arch your back.
- Try to stand as tall as you possibly can, imagining your head is touching the ceiling.
It sounds old-fashioned but imagining that you have a book balancing on the top of your head really does help to position the neck at a healthy angle. Obviously it’s unrealistic to do this all the time, but if you’re walking to a meeting or eating lunch, try to do it for as long as possible.
- Each morning and evening stretch in the shower/before you go to sleep – stretch the arms as high as you can get them and then slowly move them in a circular motion. This will help keep shoulders in a good place.
- Check your sleeping position – if you sleep with your neck hunched down, try and consciously sleep with your neck straighter.
- Never sleep on your front as it pushes the body’s natural curves out of kilter - we spend a third of our life in bed so this is really important.
Pilates is a great way to learn and develop good habits with regards to posture. If you’re a first-timer, Luke Meessmann, Master Trainer and Head of Training and Development at TenPilates, (www.tenpilates.com) recommends a well-rounded approach, starting with a beginners’ class. This will ensure that you learn the foundations of Pilates, how to find and isolate different muscle groups and help identify areas that are overworked. He then recommends moving on to the more specific spinal mobility classes used in combination with personal training sessions, thereby creating a good balance between flexibility and strength training.
Ben McChesney also recommends participating in something you enjoy that gets you moving for 30-40 minutes 3-5 times per week to aid mobility. Generally speaking vigorous walking is good for everyone as a starting point to progress from.
Ben recommends osteopathic treatment to help restore motion in restricted joints and improve flexibility through shortened tissues that are the product of a sedentary lifestyle and long periods of time spent in less than optimal posture. Along with the prescription of individualised dynamic mobility exercises, this can empower people to improve the function of their body, and limit the negative effects of poor postural habits.