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As National Correct Posture Month, May is the perfect time to focus on keeping your spine healthy. University of the Sciences in Philadelphia’s Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Dr. Greg Thielman offers simple exercises and solutions to improve your posture—and avoid a lifetime of aches and pains.
Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or laying down. Good posture involves training the body to stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments.
“Poor posture can lead to loss of shoulder motion, chronic pain, walking deficits, neck-related headaches, the inability to exercise, and more,” warned Dr. Thielman. “However, aside from contributing to a good appearance, the long-term benefits of proper posture include helping to decrease abnormal wearing of joint surfaces, lessening stress on the ligaments of the spine, preventing the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions, and preventing backache and muscular pain.”
To help you keep your spine healthy, Dr. Thielman shared the following exercises and tips:
· Evaluate your workstations: A workstation is anywhere that an individual spends a notable amount of time daily and for many of us, our primary workstation is standing or sitting at a desk. “If you’re sitting, don’t drop a ton of money on an ergonomic chair. Instead, position the chair to provide lumbar, shoulder, and if needed, head support.”
· Perform daily exercises: Dr. Thielman recommends regularly exercising the large muscles on the front and back of the thigh, the abdominal muscles, and performing three exercises daily:
▪ Pelvic Tilt: “While sitting, push your pelvis back into the chair, hold it for three seconds and then relax. This tightens and strengthens your abdominal muscles,” explains Dr. Thielman.
▪ Chin Tucks: “Also while sitting, put your pointer finger on your chin and push straight back. Be sure your head isn’t tilted up or down and this exercise will realign your spine and combat forward head position.”
▪ Lean Back: “Lastly, most of what we perform at our workstations forces us anterior, so we’re constantly bending forward. To straighten the spine, stand-up, put your hands on your lower back, and lean back. This exercise combats the effects of being in a forward position.”
· Invest in supportive shoes: Stiletto heels may look good, but Dr. Thielman warns they don’t do women any favors in the posture department. “There is no such thing as a good high heel shoe.” Shoes that cover the top of the foot are ideal. “Each brand fits differently, but the key is to find one that works for you and that gives the much-needed overall support.”
Additionally, Dr. Thielman cautions against carrying backpacks that weigh more than 20 pounds, attempting to lift objects that are too heavy, and repetitively making the same moves without taking frequent breaks. Any one of these actions encourage the forward leaning motion that causes poor posture and back problems.
“A common misconception about good posture is that it can be maintained by only doing occasional strength training. Good posture is more than just standing-up straight and holding your shoulders back, and if you don’t have the muscle strength, you aren’t going to be able to hold that posture for very long. By maintaining your strength and being consciously aware of your posture, you can maintain proper posture and mobility well into your mid-60s, before the natural onset of aging.”