Are You A Sloucher?
By Pamela Guevarra, PT, DPT
AZOPT Buckeye Physical Therapist
“Sit Tall!” “Straighten up!” “Stop slouching!” Do these sound familiar? Some of you may hear this frequently while working, playing video games and now, even texting. These constant reminders feel like nagging, and can be very irritating, BUT…. they are right! If you are not a sloucher, why act like one? It is never too late to work on good posture!
Growing up, I was never reminded to have good posture. In high school, I carried a heavy backpack, never used the left shoulder strap, and played volleyball with some very terrible form. Years of very bad posture lead to constant neck pain and tingling from my neck to arm. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc and degeneration… in my thirties, nonetheless. Surgery was mentioned as an option. Talk about a wakeup call.
As a young, healthy adult, I decided to make changes. I wanted to correct my posture, but every time I tried, I felt more stiffness and more pain. Exercise was even painful. What could I expect, though? Years of slouching and poor posture are not easy to correct. The answer, for me, was physical therapy. A few weeks of therapy, and I saw improvements in my posture and the ability to exercise without pain. Hopefully, my experiences can help you. But first, let’s talk about the biomechanics of slouching.
What happens when we slouch?
There is repetitive, uneven, and excess pressure on certain areas of the joints in the spine. This prolonged and uneven pressure over time causes symptoms of pain, stiffness, and degeneration. It can also cause muscle tightness which eventually leads to the shortening of these muscles. The shortening of muscles causes more stiffness and more symptoms of pain. We see this mostly with neck muscles, pectoral muscles, and hip flexors. For some people with symptoms on the neck area, headaches arise from the base of the head from the stiffness of the neck spine. People can also experience muscle tension and radiating symptoms of pain and/or numbness to the arm, forearm or up to the hand.
What are posture killers?
# 1 – Your job!
Maintaining a good posture for a desk job is very challenging. Years of being stooped over, with rounded shoulders, and a forward head posture can cause neck, shoulder, and/or low back problems. While many companies now ensure an ergonomically-designed desk and chair, it is important for you to be mindful of the following:
- Keep your hips higher than your knees – try placing a folded pillow on your seat
- Your feet should be flat on the floor and your computer monitor should be in line with your eyes.
- Get up and walk every hour or less and stretch!
- For stay at home parents, normal household chores, improper lifting and carrying your children, and everyday stress leads to fatigue, and fatigue leads to poor posture.
- Exercise! Three times per week and your neck and back will thank you.
#2 – An overstuffed purse!
Yes, ladies. Weigh your purse, and you’ll be surprised how much load you place on your shoulders and neck. Let’s clean up that clutter from those ten pound purses and lighten the load to ease the stress. While fashionable, that huge purse may be too much for your elbow and the surrounding muscles. Also, when carrying groceries or other items, make sure to distribute the weight evenly between the two hands.
#3 – Prolonged use of gadgets.
Texting, tablet use, and video games has been a posture killer for many of the younger generation. Remind your children, and yourselves, to take a few minute break to rest those eyes and your back. If you are a gamer, position yourself correctly before you begin playing. Try to stand every once in a while. Sit in a chair, not the floor, because sitting for a prolonged period of time hunched over not only affects your neck, but also your low back and shoulders. Lastly, keep those shoulders down, there is no need to shrug.
How can you check your posture?
Put those gadgets to good use! With your camera, have a friend take a picture with your feet together and arms relaxed on your side. Take a picture from the back, the front, and the side. Or, simply stand in front of a long mirror in that same stance. For someone with a desk job, a picture of you working will also provide valuable feedback. You should look for the following:
- Are your shoulders level and your hips level?
- Are you leaning more with your trunk or your hip to one side?
- Does one forearm appear closer than the other?
- Is your head and neck in line with your trunk, so your chin points down and not forward or up?
- Is your low back curved too much forward?
If you notice any abnormality, a physical therapist can assess your posture further. A physical therapist will discuss how to correct these abnormalities, teach you exercises, and help you improve your posture.
For now, be mindful to straighten up! Imagine there is a pole that runs through your ear, shoulder, trunk, hip, knee and ankle. You can also try to think chest out, shoulders back – then everything else will follow! Good posture boosts confidence.
Very importantly, if you hurt or correcting your posture proves too difficult, please call us immediately to help.