Altering the way you sit, stand, and hold yourself can prevent back, neck and shoulder problems from developing. It’s time to straighten up…
Most people will experience back pain at some point. Indeed, it’s reckoned it affects half the UK population and costs more than £50million every day in terms of NHS treatments, disability benefits and absence from work (sick days blamed on bad backs amount to at least 10 million a year). But taking steps to improve your posture can prevent you becoming a statistic.
Workplace conditions are a major contributor to aches and pains. Office workers may well find themselves sitting in the same position for hours on end, slouching, leaning and hunching in front of a computer screen all day, which encourages strain in the neck, shoulder, arm and back regions, often leading to injury.
In order to combat this, take a minute to assess the way you sit at work, and adjust things accordingly. Your feet should rest flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90º angle; likewise your elbows should rest at a right-angle.
Your spine should be aligned with the back of your chair and shoulders kept straight. Your computer screen should be close enough you don’t need to lean forward to see it properly and should be at eye-level to avoid neck-strain. Not only that, but you should take a short stroll around the office every half an hour or so, too.
Posture isn’t only about how well you hold yourself when sitting or standing; it’s the way you position your back in a host of activities including sleep (a necessity that can mean hours of strain) and lifting. And when it comes to the latter, technique is everything.
The mistake many people make is lifting with their back when in fact, it’s your leg muscles that should take the brunt of a heavy load. Get as close to the object as possible. Move your feet apart and, when reaching down to pick it up, squat – keeping your top half upright – while tightening your stomach muscles to support you; then lift with your legs.
Hold the line
Many people fail to understand what good posture actually looks like, assuming that if you tense your back so your chest is pulled ‘in and up’, and pull your head towards your chest so you are standing straight as an arrow, this is correct What you are really doing is putting strain on your muscles.
The correct way is to keep your ears, shoulders and hips aligned when standing or sitting – this will ensure your back isn’t being compromised. This actually creates an ‘S’ shape which should be the natural shape of your spine. Need a little help to get there? You can use a mirror to test out your perfect posture.
Posture is important – even when you’re fast asleep. To make absolutely sure you are getting the kind of support your back needs, a relatively firm mattress can make a world of difference. In addition, try to sleep flat on your back, as this will help straighten out your shoulders, and it is usually more comfortable for your spine than lying on the stomach or side.
If you do prefer sleeping on your side, try using towels or lumbar pillows for added reinforcement; simply placing one between your legs and under your neck will help keep your spine aligned even while you toss and turn in the land of nod. And as for your head, use one or two pillows maximum.
Get to the core
By regularly doing exercises that focus on the primary suspects of postural pain, you can help ease tension and tighten muscles in these troublesome spots. ‘Planking’, whereby you place your forearms and toes on the floor and keep the rest of your body suspended flat, is a good exercise to try as this requires you to work your abs and back muscles, strengthening your core. Doing this for three minutes – even once a day – can help improve your body’s support system, thus minimising the risk of strain. Yoga and Pilates are also sure-fire ways to improve your posture.
Is it Sciatica?
Pressure on the body’s longest nerve is painful
Any mild or acute pain that stems from the lower back and radiates down the back of the leg, is referred to as sciatica. It can be caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, although a slipped disc is the most common cause. ‘Of course leg pain can have many different other causes,’ says consultant spinal surgeon Michael McCarthy. ‘It can be classified into pain of spinal origin and non-spinal origin. For example, a disc herniation and spinal stenosis are spinal causes of leg pain, whereas osteoarthritis of the hip and knee are non-spinal causes.’ Disc herniation is also very common.