One of the biggest and most crucial contributing factors to maintaining the health of your spinal column is your posture. Poor posture isn’t just something that your grandma aimlessly wanted you to correct; poor posture can lead to poor health all throughout the body.
Somewhere between 50-80% of Americans complain of back pain during their lifetime. Poor posture is one of the main contributing factors that cause back pain. Ergonomic chairs and optimal desk set-ups can cause even the most conscientious of us to slouch or hunch over our computers; however, now that life is WFH until further notice, having good posture is even harder to master.
Proper body alignment not only helps prevent pain and injury but also can boost your confidence and mood. Improving your posture will likely take some time and conscious effort, but the feel-good benefits are worth it.
But pros say that the first step to correcting the situation is body awareness. There are posture-correcting apps that you can try, such as Upright, which tells you whether or not you’re sitting up straight and physical therapist-approved pillows that help you to have better alignment as you snooze for eight straight hours.
If you’re looking for a zero-dollar solution, however, you might want to try the five-point test, which physical therapists use to assess patients for imbalances in the body. According to a Physiotutor Youtube video on posture analysis, assessing how well you’re sitting is more complicated than visible slouching.
There are actually five key areas to pay attention to if you want to assess whether or not your posture is optimal. In the video, Andreas Heck, CEO and founder of Physiotutors, suggests standing up straight, looking straight ahead, while keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed.
Obviously, it’s helpful to have someone look at the points below for you, or get them to take a video of you so you can reassess later. Even better, talk to your physical therapist or chiropractor over a Zoom video chat, especially if you see something that might be off because they’ll really be able to help you out.
Test Your Posture
Nose to chest: Look at the line from the tip of your nose to the chin, stopping at your chest. Check to see if your head is rotating or leaning to one side after you “draw” the imaginary line as a reference point.
Shoulders: Look at both shoulders to check that they are level, or if they are in line if you drew an imaginary line from one shoulder to the other.
Arms: Check that both arms are equal in length and that the spacing between your arms and your body is equal as they hang at your side.
Knees: Look at your knees to see if they look level to one another. Also check if they turn out or are hyperextended.
Pelvis: Everyone’s pelvis has a natural tilt, around 15 degrees is ideal. Check to see if your pelvis is tilted inward or outward at all, which could be a sign of a potential imbalance.
Improve Your Posture
Check yourself out in the mirror
Look in the mirror. If your palms face your thighs with the thumbs pointing ahead, that’s good posture. But if your palms face backward, you’re probably slouching. To see what your posture is supposed to look like, pull your head back and your shoulders down and back. It will feel as if you’re sticking out your chest if you’re standing up correctly.
Sit all the way back in your chair. If you sit too far forward, there’s pressure placed on the pubic bone; too far back, there’s pressure on the tailbone. Find the middle range by keeping your feet flat and centering your weight with your buttocks and pubic bone creating a triangle.
Work from a better position
There’s a natural tendency to lean forward toward your computer, which puts a strain on your back. Sit back in your chair, use a lumbar pillow and slightly elevate the knees instead of slanting them downward. The monitor should be about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen at eye level so you’re not looking up to see it. With a laptop, attach an external monitor or keyboard to prevent hunching.
A lack of flexibility can lead to muscle imbalances and poor alignment. Include stretching in your weekly exercise program, and stretch daily to relieve specific points of discomfort. Try this super-easy stretch to relieve neck and shoulder stress: While standing or sitting, pull your head back, and center it over your spine. Pull your shoulders back and down, moving your arms as if you’re trying to put your elbows in your back pocket. Push palms outward—as if you’re inside a door frame—and hold for at least six seconds. Do this a few times during every hour you’re sitting at your computer.
Strengthen your core
The core refers to the entire area from under the rib cage to mid-thigh, not just the ab. All of these muscles work together to help you sit and stand tall. Yoga or Pilates are good ways to improve core strength because you use controlled movements to hold positions. For a strengthener at home, lie on your back, lift your legs off the floor and bend your knees as if you were putting your feet flat on a wall. Pull in abs, then extend one leg straight. Keep your back flat and the other knee bent. Bring one leg back, pause, and then extend the other leg; repeat.
Remember that correcting your posture takes time, and is a pretty big commitment that can come from multiple different adjustments. You’ll need to be mindful and check yourself throughout the day—every day. Find yourself slouching? Sit up. Carrying a bag? Switch which shoulders you carry it on to balance out the weight.