I’m sure we all remember a parent telling us to “sit up straight” when we were kids. Nowadays, I’m not sure if parents are still telling their kids to sit up straight, but I do know that in our current age of technology, good posture is more important than ever.
It’s hard to understand how poor posture damages our bodies, especially when this type of injury tends to happen bit by bit until the cumulative result of leaning over our laptop or repeatedly looking down at our phone results in pain. And with this pain often comes a visit to a chiropractor or physiotherapist. These worthy health care professionals can provide great results for treating damaged muscles and joints, but until the source of the issue is resolved, the pain will continue and possibly worsen as cumulative damage continues to build.
What can you do to protect and prevent this type of long-term injury from affecting you and your family? Become informed and educate yourself on the difference between good and bad posture. Understand how our amazing bodies are designed to work, and don’t force your joints and muscles into awkward postures every time you send an email or a text.
Here’s what you need to know
Our spine has several natural curves that allow our neck, trunk, arms, and legs to move fluidly with impressive range. When these curves are positioned properly, not only do we have full range of motion in our arms and legs, our joints and muscles are also in alignment, meaning our ears are lined up with our shoulders, which are lined up with our elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. This is called neutral posture - ‘neutral’ because our muscles are in a relaxed position, and we aren’t overusing or overstressing our muscles and joints. And if the curves in our spine are not positioned properly, we are stressing our muscles and joints, which is the source of cumulative trauma.
Neutral posture is pretty easy to achieve when standing because our bodies naturally want to be upright and it’s hard to stand in a slouched position. Unfortunately, sitting is a different matter. It’s far too easy to sit and perceive a sense of comfort when in reality, you are stressing your body. I believe as modern consumers of all things electronic, we have forgotten how to sit properly. We plunk ourselves down on a handy surface and start using our mobile devices without even realizing how we have physically compromised our body.
At this point, I should say that awkward postures are totally fine if you’re only in them for a short period of time. It’s when you stay in a bad posture for longer periods of time or return to that position frequently that your body starts to complain. It’s easy to stay in bad postures when you’re focused on work or play. And the younger you are, the longer it takes to notice that your muscles and joints are sore.
When you have no choice but to sit in one position and work, or if you want to devote some time to playing your favorite computer game - save yourself discomfort and take some time to sit properly in a neutral position. Sitting properly with your joints in alignment is easy, you just need to take the time to set yourself up properly. As with standing, the key to happy joints is making sure the curves in your back are intact, which is a lot easier than you might think. If you focus on maintaining the curve in the small of your back, the rest of your muscles and joints tend to fall into place.
The back of a chair should support the curve in your lower back. If the chair you’re using is too big, don’t worry! Use pillows to reduce the seat depth so your back has support and your legs are still comfortable and your feet are stabilized on the floor or a footrest (boxes and books work as great footrests, too). If you’re lucky and your chair is adjustable, even better! Learning how to accommodate your body to computers and other electronic devices, rather than the other way around, feels good, and it’s a gift you can pass on to your family.
Irma is a Calgary business owner, occupational therapist, author, and speaker who is passionate about health promotion and ergonomics. Her book, DIY Ergonomics: Live Pain-Free and Save Money can be purchased locally at Owl’s Nest Books or online at Amazon. If you would like to find out more about her business or book her for a speaking engagement, visit janzenotservices.ca.
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