How To Improve Posture & Prevent Back Pain

by Dr. Martin Knight

‘With the world becoming increasingly reliant on technology, for many people, working longer hours, leaning over laptops, iPads and other utilities has become a day-to-day ‘normality.’ The progression of technology is fantastic in many ways; however the same cannot be said for its impact on our spinal health’ says Dr. Martin Knight. ‘Sitting at desks and leaning over laptops for hours on end are well-known causes of back, neck and shoulder pain. People spend hours sitting hunched over and increasingly less time moving around. This means that many important muscle groups are not being worked and consequently associated symptoms such as deteriorated back strength; poor posture; musculature problems; internal organ movement; poor blood circulation; and poor lymphatic function are becoming common problems; when, in reality, they needn’t be. Poor posture, for example, might seem insignificant; however posture is extremely important. How our body holds itself up not only has an aesthetic impact on how we look and how confident we feel, but it also has a major impact on the positioning of our muscles and organs. We don’t want them to become deformed or squished together. If this happens frequently, it can lead to worse problems over time.' 

'To put it into perspective, when you travel by plane you are advised to exercise during the flight to encourage blood circulation and to avoid incurring Deep Vein Thrombosis – something that can be caused by sitting in the same position for long periods of time. If this is the case for one plane journey, it is easy to see why it is important to practice similar exercises in the office, as this is the place where you put your body at risk daily. You don’t want to get Repetitive Strain Injury or worse now, do you?!’

Here are 6 tips to help you to improve your posture and manage good spinal health during your working day:
 

1. Work Your Abs
The abdominal muscles play a key role in supporting the lower back and giving it stability. Poorly defined abdominal muscles and excess fat around your stomach prohibit your back from receiving sufficient support and, consequently, will pull the back into an arched position, resulting in poor posture and back problems.

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2. Strengthen Your Supporting Muscle Groups, Not Just Your Back 
The posture of the whole spine needs to be addressed starting with the neck and working downwards. You need to regain control and strength of the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and pelvic floor, and the deep muscles in the back of the back so that the pelvis’ rotation can return to normal. The hamstrings also need to be stretched and the gait must be narrowed.

Here are some drills to help you:

Warming Up

  • Imagine you have an orange between your shoulder blades – squeeze it.
  • Now your shoulders are back but it's likely that your shoulder muscles (Trapezii) are still too tight. Sweep your arms forwards and raise them above your head. Keep the palms forwards and sweep your arms outwards, palms downwards – still squeezing the orange. This will release your Trapezii.
  • Next, pull your chin back horizontally and grow tall. You may feel like a stuffed penguin but look how your posture has already improved - even the Dowager’s hump has improved!

Stretching The Hamstrings 

  • Now that you’ve warmed up, stand up and stretch your hamstrings (preferably in flat footwear). Simply bend forward at the waist, with your arms hanging down and legs relatively straight. Try to touch your toes but do not strain to do so. Stop when you feel a stretch in the hamstring. Hold the stretch for several seconds; then stand smoothly, relax and repeat. Do not bounce.
  • You can also stretch both hamstrings at once at your desk. Move your buttocks to the edge of the chair. Stretch your legs out straight and place your heels on the floor. Place your hands on top of your thighs or behind your knees, and lean your torso forward to stretch your hamstrings. Hold the stretch for several seconds, then relax and repeat. Mind you do not skid across the room.

Lumbar Spinal Drills

  • Now you are ready to perform your lumbar spinal drills. Recruit the abdominal and deep spinal muscles by squeezing the ‘bum’ and tucking the ‘tum’ in and holding these muscles for 20 seconds. Repeat 10 times a session, 4 times a day.


Suffering from persisting back problems? I recommend visiting a Chartered Physiotherapist for supervised Muscle Balance Physiotherapy. Everybody’s back and posture is different and sometimes specific sections of the spine may be overworking adjacent segments. Over time, these become weakened and hinge so will need to be freed up and dynamically stabilized with the help of a professional in order to alleviate the associated back problems.
 

2. Use A Mouse Instead Of Your Laptop’s Touch Pad
Using a touchpad is bad for your neck and shoulders. It means you have to move your hands inwards and across your body to use it and this can make your shoulders and neck very tight. Using a mouse will ensure that your arms are in a healthier position and have the freedom to move around more, thus relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles.


3. Position Your Body To Minimize The Risk Of Back Pain
When working at your laptop, position your body so that it forms 90° angles at your elbows, knees and hips. You should also aim to keep your eyes looking straight at the top third of the screen. This will protect against neck and shoulder pain caused by incorrect neck and shoulder posture.


4. Stretch
Try to get up from your workstation and stretch twice every hour. It doesn’t need to take long and will help to refresh your tired body. 

Try:

  • Stretching your arms towards the ceiling
  • Rotating your trunk from side to side
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Stretching your shoulders and tilting your neck in all directions
  • Lunges

This is very important. If you don’t move around regularly, the pressure on your spinal discs will accumulate. The spinal discs form the cushions for your back and by sitting down for long periods of time, you can damage them. Try to walk around once every 30mins, even if it’s just during a phone call.


5. Assess Your Posture
This doesn’t take long to do and it’s much better to keep an eye on the problem before it develops. Here are some tips to start you off:

  • Get a friend to take 2 photos of you. One from the side when you are standing casually and the other when you feel that you are standing upright to attention.
  • Stand with your head, back and bottom against a wall. Feel where your back touches and where it curls away in the neck and lower back.



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