If your mother ever told you to stand up straight when you were younger,
she wasn't nagging you, but giving you a sound piece of medical advice.
"Poor posture affects your health in so many ways, not just when
you're standing, but sitting as well," says
Erik McGoldrick, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at
Humboldt Medical Specialists. "And the effects of slouching or slumping aren't just physical--it
can take a toll on your mental and emotional health, too."
Just how does poor posture cause health problems? Here are some prime examples:
- Your body is more likely to suffer muscle aches and strain, headaches and
joint problems when it's not in proper alignment. Some problems can
become chronic over time if poor posture isn't corrected, such as
persistent pain or rounded shoulders.
- Slouching when sitting or standing can decrease lung capacity--and that
in turn can mean less oxygen is getting to the brain. As a result, possible
problems can include difficulty thinking clearly or trouble breathing.
- Poor posture can also affect other organs and internal systems. For instance,
it can compress the blood vessels in the collarbone area in a condition
called thoracic outlet syndrome--symptoms include pain, a weak grip, and
tingling or numbness in the arms and hands. It's also thought that
hunching over can constrict food digestion and elimination.
- Poor posture can bring your mood down. Recent studies found that when a
person slumped or slouched it reinforced negative thoughts about themselves
and could increase feelings of depression, while proper form was a mood
booster. Poor posture can also lead to increased feelings of stress in
- Your sense of balance can be thrown out of whack if you have a problem
with slouching. That can affect daily movements, such as lifting and bending
down, and it can be especially problematic for older people, for whom
falls can pose major risks.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve your posture,
Dr. McGoldrick says. "Good posture means you are in a neutral spine
position that maintains the natural curves in the neck, back and lower
back, with your ears lined up with the top of your shoulders and the shoulders
over the hip. Make sure your abs are pulled in and that your knees aren't
locked while standing." You should also:
- Make sure your desk, chair and other office equipment are ergonomically
correct. In a seated position, your feet should be on the floor and knees
level with hips, and your lower back should maintain its natural curve
with the support of the chair back. Your computer monitor should be placed
so you can look directly at it without bending your neck.
- Weak abdominal muscles don't provide the support needed for good posture,
so strengthen the core with exercises such as pilates, weight machines
that target the back, and yoga poses that focus on the core such as cobra.
- Sometimes it helps to ask a friend to point out any areas of your posture
you should be aware of. Or look in a mirror and see if you tend to slouch
your shoulders, sway your back or jut your head forward--all signs that
your body is out of alignment. If you spot an area that needs improvement,
put a reminder on your computer or an alarm on your smartphone to check
your posture periodically throughout the day.
- Good posture isn't limited to waking hours. The best sleeping positions
are either on the back or the side, not the stomach, and you can help
maintain those natural curves of the neutral spine with small pillows
you can put under or between your knees.
- Take care of your feet--when you stand, they are the support system for
your body. Pain or other foot problems, such as being pigeon toed, could
affect your stance and posture. Avoid heels whenever possible and look
into orthotic footwear if you have a severe problem that needs correcting.
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