We've all seen it and most likely have all done it. We're sitting at our desks, hunched over the computer only to realize we're in a horrible ergonomic position. Then we lift our chest forward, head up and back to a good position, right? Not necessarily.
Chances are, you have just flexed your spine into a horrible position. If you were to stand up and hold this same position in the upper part of your body, do you look normal (probably like image number 2 in the "check your posture" picture below)? Now think of the long-term effects of holding yourself in that position for essentially every day.
Long-Term Implications of Bad Posture
There's a lot more to bad posture than simply being told you have bad posture. It's also not something you should take lightly if you do have bad posture. Livestrong.com has an excellent article on the implications of bad posture, which states that "[p]osture is an important part of preventing problems ranging from back pain to fatigue. When the back is straight, the spine is supported and stabilized, but as you slouch or practice other methods of poor posture, your spine no longer has the support it needs to stay balanced, leading to many health problems."
Subluxations (misaligned vertebrae, which eventually cause chronic health problems including stress and irritation of the surrounding nerves).
Blood vessel constriction, which raises the changes for clots and issues with deep vein thrombosis (clots within a deep vein, usually in the legs).
Nerve constriction - these pinched nerves can not only cause neck and back pain but may also cause pain in other unrelated areas of the body since the nerves that connect to the spine come from all over the body.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck
There's a lot more to bad posture than simply
Dr. Kelly Starrett, author of the Supple Leopard and Deskbound and creator of www.mobilitywod.com, states that "what you need to understand is that your spine is always searching for stability. Imagine holding one of those wooden snake toys by the tail and trying to balance it vertically. You are going to work really hard until you give up and let the snake round to the limits of its wobbly wooden sections. This is what happens to your spine when you fail or organize and stabilize your body in a good position."
The easiest way to avoid bad sitting posture is to not sit down as much as possible (see our post on "Sitting is the New Smoking"). But, just because you're standing also doesn't mean that you're doing it correctly.
What is the proper way to stand?
How do I stabilize my spine? Yeg Physiotherapy states that the simple answer is to "use the bracing sequence as explained by Dr. Starrett. Follow these four steps to have a beautiful, strong, and healthy spine.
Squeeze your glutes! Your butt is very powerful and strong. By squeezing your butt muscles, your pelvis is put in the right position.
Stack your ribs over your pelvis! If your ribs are too far forward over your pelvis, your back will over-arch. If your ribs are too far back, your back will round excessively. Straighten up, everyone!
Tighten your abs! It’s impossible to move with your butt squeezed all the time so you have to recruit your belly muscles to help stabilize your spine. So after you’ve squeezed your glutes and stacked your ribs, take a deep breath in and engage your abdominals as you exhale. You need about 20% tension in your abs to maintain a braced position.
Set your head and shoulders! No more chin poking and hunched shoulders (unless you want to look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame). To set your head, bring your ears in line with your shoulders. And then to set your shoulders, gently draw your shoulder blades down toward your hips."
However, over the long term, you should use something like the Fluid Stance board or a fidget bar to avoid some of the consequences of immobility from standing still for too long.
What is the proper way to sit down?
Sometimes you cannot avoid sitting, like when you're tired, in a meeting, in a car, at the movies. What should you do in these situations? Of course, we want you to live an amazing life including activities that will likely require you to sit. When you need to sit, follow these rules:
Before you sit, I want you to stand in front of your chair. Keep your feet at about shoulder width (a little wider than shoulder width is best). Your toes should still be pointing straight ahead - not at an angle. Dr. Starrett notes that having the chair approximately 6 inches behind the heels is best.
Stand tall. Lightly squeeze your abs and your butt cheeks. Make sure that the top of your chest and rib cage is straight above your hips. Hold your hands up as shown below. The top hand should be in line with your nipples and the bottom hand at your hips. Look down and you should see that your hands are held perfectly over each other. If you are going to be standing, this is the ideal braced position.
You are now ready to sit down. To sit down, you should push your butt back BEFORE moving your knees. All too often people will initiate the movement with their knees, which will lead to all sorts of problems later in life. Your chest will shift forward as you do this (think about doing a squat, since that's really what you are doing).
Once you have done this, continue lowering your hips and now also bend the knees. Try to sit the bony parts of your pelvis on the chair first.
Now shift your upper body backwards so that you are sitting straight up, but not bending your spine. See picture below.
Posture is way more important than you probably thought. Pay more attention to how you sit and stand so that you can keep moving for years to come.