Sam Bauman: Posture is more than just standing up tall
Yes, we remember mom saying to us, “Stand up straight,” or dad admonishing us, “Don’t slouch!” They were trying to make us assume correct posture.
Posture plays an important role in how we move as well as often relieving body pain. Posture is the way you hold your body whether standing, sitting or lying down. It refers to the relative position of your muscles, bones and other body parts.
Three major positions of the spine are involved is posture — the cervical or top of the spine, the thoracic or chest area of the spine, and the lumbar or bottom of the spine. The spine starts at the neck and curves back at the beginning of the thoracic. It then moves forward as it reaches the lumbar area. It’s like a gentle “S” from top to bottom.
Poor posture is when those curves are distorted, and when they are pain is next. These curves absorb much of the stress the body is subjected to in daily life. Posture tends to weaken as we age due to weaker muscles.
The Mayo Special Report of May 2016 details all this, including the health effects of poor posture. Being out of proper alignment puts extra pressure on your body. Slouching with your head bent forward puts extra stress on your body and joints. In the neutral position your spine bears the weight of your head — 8 to 12 pounds. Computer modeling suggests that a head bent forward only 15 degrees puts 27 pounds of pressure on the spin, while 60 degrees forward puts 61 pounds on the spine. This added strain can lead to discomfort, instability and increased risk of injury. Some results of poor posture:
Poor posture can strain the muscles in the back of the head, neck, upper back and jaw. Increased strength, flexibility can reduce headaches.
Back and neck pain are common complaints as we age. Though rarely perilous, they intrude on lifestyle. Proper bending and lifting can ease such problems.
Knee, hip or foot pain. Improper alignment, muscle weakness, imbalance and improper alignment of hips, knees and feet may block movement of the kneecap sliding down over the femur. The ensuing friction can cause pain in the front of the knee.
Shoulder pain. Poor posture balance with muscle weakness can affect the rotator cuff, a group of muscles that connect the upper arm to the body, resulting in pain and weakness. Over time this becomes a chronic condition called tendinosis and a tear in the rotator causing significant pain. I suffered this when teaching skiing at Heavenly. Luckily it healed by itself.
Jaw pain. A forward head position can result in the temporomandibular joint to become overworked resulting in pain, and popping of the jaw as well as problems opening the mouth. A neutral position of the jaw can help ease these problems.
Breathing problems. A forward posture can limit your rib cage and compress the diaphragm, leading to labored breathing.
Knowing what proper posture looks like is needed to know where you are. You can look in the mirror or try the wall test:
Stand with the head, shoulder blades, and back of buttocks touching the wall. Heels 2 to 4 inches from the wall.
Put a flat hand behind the small of the back. You should be able to slide the hand between the lower back and the wall for the right lower back curve.
If there’s too much space between the wall and your back draw your belly button your spine, bringing your lower back to the wall.
If there’s too little space behind your lower back arch your back so you can slid the hand behind you.
Walk away from the wall while keeping the correct posture. Return to the wall and check if you kept the good posture.
A sitting posture check. Sit in a firm upright chair. Sit with your back pressed against the chair. Sit forward with your chin slightly tucked, your shoulders relaxed and your belly button slightly pulled in. Center your weight over your sitting bones. Make sure your hips and knees are at 90-degree angles and your feet are flat on the floor.
Sleeping posture is important as well.
On the back — placing one or two pillows under the legs can reduce stress on the spine by half.
On the side — Lightly bend the knees. Place a pillow between the knees to reduce pressure on spine and back.
On the stomach —Place a pillow under the pelvis and lower abdomen. No pillow under the head.
Improved posture exercises:
Lay on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Draw the belly button with abdominal muscles to the spine. Hold for 2 to 5 seconds, Do two sets of 2 to 5 seconds.
Lie flat on the floor with feet slightly apart and knees bent with a small rolled towel between shoulder blades. Clasp fingers behind head and gently push elbows toward the floor. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat twice.
If you can do it safely, do this while lying on a foam roller for greater stretch.
Posture may not be the solution to problems, but correcting it can’t hurt.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.