By Dr. Brent Wells
When you were young, a parent may have told you to sit up straight and not to slouch. Their instructions could not be more important today, especially with the prevalence of mobile technology. Since people are hunched over their mobile phones, laptop computers, and tablets, good posture has become a minor concern. And our backs and necks are paying for it.
But, is good posture just about sitting up straight and not slouching? The short answer is yes. There are several factors that go into maintaining good posture and they are not difficult to remember.
The growing problem of tech neck
As we age, our backs and cores weaken and we begin to lean forward. With mobile technology, the forward bend in the spine is happening faster. In a study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, researchers looked at young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 who were complaining of pain in their necks and upper extremities. The correlation between the pain was found to be texting. While there was a correlation between texting and neck pain, the researchers wanted to conduct long-term studies, which are not yet available.
In another study published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, researchers surveyed 15,000 Finnish workers between the ages of 18 and 65. They all worked in jobs that required the use of mobile phones and different types of computers. The results of the survey were astonishing:
“Altogether 53.3% of all young adults had pretty often or more frequently pain, numbness or aches in the neck and 32.2% had aches in the hip and lower back. Women experienced more pain, numbness or aches in the neck (65.0%) than men (34.5%).”These results have been replicated in other studies, which show that repetitive use—even with something as simple as sitting and using a computer or phone—can create pain in the body.
This overuse is doing harm to our spines, at the top, middle, and bottom. And, it seems that no one is exempt from the possibility that poor posture will eventually create pain. So, what do we do about it?
Sitting too long can create posture problemsUnfortunately, healthcare providers and researchers have mixed ideas on what ideal posture looks like. In the journal Applied Ergonomics, researchers studied four different ideal sitting postures to determine which was truly the most ergonomic. The outcome of the study did not determine a perfect posture, but found that people with low back pain might sit in a lordotic (the spine curving toward the front of the body) or kyphotic (the spine curving toward the front of the body in an exaggerated way) posture to relieve pain. They also found that it is best to not sit too long in any one posture.
Pay attention to posture to improve itOne of the best ways to maintain good postures is to pay attention to posture. In a study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, patients with various degrees of back and neck pain were taught to use a Postural Awareness Scale (PAS), which was developed to be used in partnership with a yoga program. The researchers found that becoming aware of posture did help patients reduce back pain. They saw not just physical benefits, but psychological benefits, too.
What good posture looks like and tools to help achieve itIn a peer-reviewed article published in Medical News Today, good sitting posture was explained. The keys to posture included relaxing the shoulders, keeping feet flat on the floor or on a footrest, and avoiding sitting for too long by taking a 10-minute break after sitting for an hour. There were postures to avoid: slumping to one side, crossing the knees or ankles, and straining the neck. Adding a lumbar support pillow and a footrest can help support good posture.
Learning to sit and stand to protect the backLearning to sit and stand with the shoulders back and the core engaged can help support good posture. But, one of the best ways to support good posture is to exercise regularly. This is supported by research published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. This study defined good posture as having a straight spine with the natural curves, so the strain on the body is minimal. The participants in the study saw better posture after four weeks of participating in the exercise program that included stretching. The most success was found with participants who were involved in an isometric exercise program that was focused on posture.
Chiropractic care and good postureAnother useful tool to correct posture is chiropractic care. In a case study published in the South African journal Health SA Gesondheid, researchers looked at several women and how their posture would be corrected through chiropractic adjustment. Different groups of women received different therapies along with adjustments. Some received just adjustments, while others had prescribed stretches with their adjustments. One group only performed stretching exercises. All of the women had kyphosis—the exaggerated forward curve in their spine.
Of these three groups, the second and third groups saw the most success. Chiropractic care did not seem to be enough to correct the posture of women with exaggerated curves. But, chiropractic care along with stretching exercises showed the best results. The prescribed stretches involved the pectoral, rhomboid, and trapezius muscles. The adjustments were done on the thoracic area of the spine. The combination of chiropractic adjustments with prescribed stretches improved the curves by an average of 30%. Most local chiropractors, like me, and other chiropractors around the globe are trained to make the necessary adjustments, giving you a clean and perfectly aligned slate while helping to heal any existing damage.
Yoga can improve and maintain posture
Kyphosis can create postural problems for women and some turn to yoga to correct the exaggerated curve. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, women with exaggerated humps attended hatha yoga classes twice per week for 12 weeks. While many women did not lose the humps on their backs, they did find that they stood up straighter and felt better about their posture. The study did find that yoga improves strength and flexibility and “heightened attention to alignment” which improved their well-being and posture.
About Dr. Brent Wells:
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.