The Smart Patient's Guide to
Managing Pain in the Workplace

Expert Tips for Maintaining Good Posture Throughout the Day

Hunching over laptops and cellphones stresses the spine and can lead to back and neck pain, fatigue, and muscle strain. Given the reliance on technology today, it may be more important than ever to be mindful of proper alignment.

Of course you want to have a strong back that doesn’t cause you pain. You do your best to stand up straight whenever you think of it (okay, maybe just when you’re in front of a mirror or when you catch a glimpse of your reflection as you stroll past shop windows). But whether you’re lounging in your bed, standing in line at the supermarket, or trying not to slump in your office chair, practicing good posture isn’t difficult but can make a big difference in how you feel. And keeping your spine aligned is important for another reason as well.

“Maintaining good posture can reduce the strain on the ligaments and muscles that support the spine,” according to Alexander Rances, DO, licensed acupuncturist, pain management specialist, and attending physician at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. “Poor posture leads to muscle fatigue, spasms, and increased pain.” 

Good posture is important not just when you are standing. It’s about how you position yourself when you sit, lie down, and bend over, too. Here’s a guide to help you start good posture habits in five common scenarios.

#1. Sitting 

If you have an office job, sitting in a correct position all day can be difficult. “There are real posture challenges here due to texting, computer time, and too much sitting,” says Judi Bar, E-RYT 500 Yoga Program Manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Her first piece of advice is to be mindful. “Get in the habit of remembering to have good posture,” she says “We are busy and tired, so we allow our bodies to lean forward and to hunch.”  This can result in “text neck,” she says, which is what happens when you bend your neck forward too far.

While at your desk, it’s important to keep your back straight and to prevent your shoulders from rolling forward, Dr. Rances advises. You want your weight to be evenly distributed while you keep your feet flat to the ground. Make sure the height of your chair is adjusted so that your knees bend at a natural 90-degree angle. “Crossing your legs may actually worsen any back pain,” he says adding that people with back pain should use an ergonomic chair for most of the work day. “However, an exercise ball can be an effective tool to break up the bad practice of prolonged sitting but don’t use it for more than 30 minutes at a time. Sitting on an exercise ball can activate core muscles which helps to stabilize the spine.”  Need a visual: view this infographic for more ergonomic recommendations.

Similarly, standing desks can be used to break up long periods of sitting. “It is recommended to stand no more than 30 minutes at a time to guard against fatigue and worsening symptoms,” explains Dr. Rances.

 

#2. Standing in line 

Gravity is a fact of life, and it’s certainly natural for an individual to give in and slouch, says Ms. Bar. “Especially when we are busy and tired, we allow our bodies to lean forward and hunch over,” she says.

Slouching is “inevitable, particularly when we are fatigued,” Dr. Rances adds. “However, it is always important to maintain good posture while standing.” Try to keep your weight on the balls of your feet, your knees slightly bent, and feet positioned about shoulder-width apart. Your arms should hang naturally at your sides, Dr. Rances advises. And keep in mind that when standing correctly, your legs should be straight but not locked. “Push your feet into the floor and lengthen your spine,” suggests Ms. Bar. “Your head, shoulders, hips and knees should line up.”

This may not be easy at first! “It takes a lot of strength to stand up straight and not stick out your hips, buttocks, or knees,” says the wellness expert. According to Dr. Rances, your physician or physical therapist may be able to recommend exercises to retrain and strengthen your core so that you stand tall which in turn helps you avoid slouching.

#3. Lounging in bed 

Who doesn’t love snuggling under the covers with the remote in one hand and your favorite beverage in the other? Go ahead and treat yourself to an occasional night of channel surfing if you must, but pay attention to how you position yourself to avoid backache. “It’s probably best to refrain from watching TV while in bed as it can create excessive strain on your neck and lower back,” says Dr. Rances pointing out that a chair or couch is a better option.

When getting horizontal, avoid lying down on your back with your head bent on a large angle on a pillow as this puts undue stress on your neck and shoulders, Ms. Bar says. Instead, prop some pillows behind your back for some support, and bend your legs and put a pillow under your knees. According to sleep.org, sleeping on your back is best but only 8% of the population choses this option. No extra pressure is put on your head, neck and spine when you rest facing-up with your head slightly elevated to be in line with the rest of the body. So consider flipping over if you are a tummy or side sleeper as poor sleep posture can also contribute to neck and back pain.

 

#4. Lifting

Key to preventing injury while lifting is reducing the strain on your spine, Dr. Rances says. “This can be accomplished by maintaining an upright posture and bending at the knees and hips while tightening the abdominal muscles to lift heavy objects,” he explains.

While it might seem as if you should just bend over and hoist up your load, resist that urge. Instead, move as close to the load as you possibly can, since being up close to the object will put less force on your lower back.  As you squat down to pick it up, keep yourself upright and resist the temptation to bend into the load. Simultaneously, tighten up those stomach muscles. Do not hold your breath. Put your legs to work and lift with them. As you move the load, be sure to do so by turning with your feet, but not with your back.

 

#5. Driving 

The driver’s seat in many vehicles can be challenging as it’s molded in a way that can make it impossible to sit straight, Ms. Bar points out. Yet you should try to sit as upright as possible while driving. “I would suggest placing a lumbar pillow at the low back if that feels comfortable,” she says. “The seat back should be situated to support a tall spine, not too close to the steering wheel so that the arms can move easily and not compress the shoulders together.”

Always position the seat so that your knees are higher than your hips, Dr. Rances says, and adjust the lumbar support of the car so that it sits at the curve of your back. “Stretching can help reduce pain, stress, and fatigue to the lower back, particularly when you are stuck in traffic,” he says. One simple stretching exercise is to rotate your trunk to one side for five seconds while keeping your back straight, and then rotating it to the other side. Another good exercise is to roll your back forward away from the seat for five seconds and then to slowly roll your back toward your seat and hold for five seconds. “These exercises can be repeated several times while you’re sitting in heavy traffic,” Dr. Rances explains.

Updated on: 02/28/18
Continue Reading:
Convince Your Boss You Need a Sit-Stand Desk
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