Posture sound boring but, if you want to feel good and free in your body, and to escape niggling aches and pains, it’s worth giving it some attention.
These are the tips I’ve picked up from the raft of posture and body specialists I’ve interviewed over the years. So simple, so effective.
• Think about standing on both feet. That might sound strange but most people actually slouch to one side, putting their weight on one leg which puts them out of balance.
• Tuck your bottom in and pull your stomach in so you are using your muscles almost like a girdle to hold yourself in. This provides good support for the lower back.
• Bring your chin in. Most of us poke our chins out far too far. The head should be balanced with the chin tucked in.
* Take even strides: some people pull themselves along, overusing their hamstrings (the back of the thighs); others lean forwards and overstride.
* Keep your balance: we are designed to balance on one leg after the other. Don’t throw your weight around.
• High heels can throw the pelvis forward which, in turn, will throw the whole body out of alignment. Eventually this will cause shortening in some muscles, which could lead to back pain. Low, well-cushioned shoes are best for everyday wear. It’s fine to wear high heels for special occasions but just don’t wear them all day, every day.
SITTING – FOR WORK
• You should be seated with your knees lower than your pelvis. The seat should be high enough for you to relax your shoulders, leaving your arms at a ninety-degree angle to your desk. If the chair has arms, they should be low enough to fit under your desk.
• If you use a screen at work, your computer should be on a stand rather than on the desk, so that you can look directly at it, rather than down towards it. Make sure it is placed directly in front of you, rather than off to one side.
SITTING – TO RELAX
• Slumping in front of the television may feel comfortable but it’s the worse possible position for your back. You should have a reasonably firm support behind you – a firm cushion will help. Or try sitting on a gymball – you get a workout as well as a great posture reset.
• If you’re watching TV, you should be directly facing it with your head balanced. Don’t twist. If you’re reading a book or magazine, lift it up towards you rather than bending over your lap.
• A good mattress is essential. Too soft and the curves of your back sink in and reinforce bad posture – but equally too hard can be uncomfortable.
• Choose your pillow carefully – it needs to be malleable enough to mould to the curves of your neck. There are specialist pillows on the market which work well. Equally you could roll up a hand towel and place it inside your pillow case to provide a good support for your neck.
• Check your position: it’s fine to sleep on either your side or your back, but watch out if you sleep on your front with your head turned to one side. It twists the upper neck and can create imbalance.
WHAT TO AVOID
Certain movements and practices will play havoc with your back. These are the main ones to avoid.
1. The heavy shoulder bag. The weight of the bag won’t (as you may think) pull your shoulder down – you will be pulling up your shoulder. As a consequence your body will overbalance and twist to compensate. Try a rucksack or, at the very least, keep shifting arms when carrying heavy bags.
2. The phone shrug: clutching the telephone between your ear and shoulder may free your hands but can result in “telephone neck syndrome”, a form of repetitive strain syndrome which can cause searing pain between the shoulder blades. If you spend most of your day on the phone, use a headset.
3. The reversing rick: many people suffer injuries when reversing their cars. The tendency is to pull the head back sharply and jerk the neck around. Instead, try dropping the tip of your nose towards your shoulder and then turning it while imagining your shoulder lengthening.
4. Post-exercise trauma: many people come unstuck after vigorous exercise. Good posture after vigorous sport is very important because all your muscles will be warm and pliable. A lot of people tend to slump in the changing room. Stand up and walk about instead.
5. The hip bend: never pick up anything by twisting and bending: always squat before lifting.