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Sit up straight and walk tall!
Posture is important!

January 2018

woman in pain holding her lower back

One thing so many people suffer from as they get older is poor posture. At the beginning of the 20th century it was common for young ladies to be taught to walk balancing a book on their head to ensure a perfect upright posture. Even in those wonderful days when we were at school, teachers used to tell us to sit up straight. But all this is now in the distant past and today slouching in front of the TV, in a car or in front of a computer is all too common.

For those lucky enough not to have any back pain, slouching is still a really bad idea that can be setting up problems for the future.

The body uses good posture to reduce excess force on muscles and joints; as soon as you start sitting or walking badly you will be affecting a range of areas.

The spine is one of the major areas that can be affected by poor posture, especially the lower back. You may not feel any discomfort or pain at the time, but over time stress caused by poor posture can lead to anatomical changes in your spine which can have all sorts of consequences. Blood vessels and nerves may become restricted, muscles, discs and joints can be affected as well, all leading to future pain and the possibility of severe problems.

Poor posture can also cause neck pain, straining muscles and ligaments that support the neck.

But sitting up straight isn’t just about keeping your spine and neck in the right position. Slouching and having poor posture also puts unnatural pressure and angles on other parts of your body. For instance, the lower back can be greatly affected by poor posture. Hunched shoulders can impact breathing because of reduced space around the diaphragm and lungs.

For women, those high heels we loved in our youth shifted our weight forward and caused our lower back to over arch. This was something we could handle when we were young but today the results can start to cause problems and pain.

Carrying heavy shopping or backpacks of course affects our posture and too often can cause muscle imbalances as one leans sideways or forward to compensate the weight. Again this may not cause any immediate pain but it can set up real problems in the future.

Really the ramifications from poor posture are ongoing. The abnormal wearing of joint surfaces when limbs and the body aren’t at the correct angle can result in damage leading to future arthritis. Fatigue and constant tiredness can be a symptom because muscles are being used inefficiently.  Pain and damage from poor posture can start in the neck and back but can subsequently affect the hips or even the knees.

A simple way to describe good posture is to stand with an imaginary line drawn down your side from your ear, shoulder, centre of hips, knee and ankle. Standing up, your shoulders and neck should be relaxed, your abdomen pulled in, and the balance of your weight evenly on both feet.

There are lots of online sites that give tips on common posture errors and how to improve posture:

Something else that can cause physical pain and damage is staying in the same position for two long. The general recommendations are to change positions at least every 20 minutes, even if this is simply getting up from the TV or computer to stretch and move about before sitting down again.

If you have ingrained posture problems that you are finding hard to correct – it is so easy to forget posture in a busy active life – then  health professionals such as physiotherapists, osteopaths and  chiropractitioners are usually more than happy to assist to get you back into the best positions again.
Treatment could include physically correcting your posture so that you can feel what you should be doing, and also suggestions for some exercises to improve tight muscles or help strengthen them.

Looking back, the advice the teachers used to give in the 1960s was indeed very valuable...sit up straight and walk tall and you will save yourself lots of problems in later life!

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