|by Kelly Thomsen, PT|
Good posture, also known as keeping a “neutral spine,” is the result of the work of several muscles, with the shoulder blade and abdominal musculature being some of the most important. Scapular muscles (shoulder blade) need to be strong in order to keep the shoulders from hunching forward, which in turn keeps the neck in a neutral position. The abdominals, along with low back musculature, work to keep the trunk in an upright posture.
Unfortunately for us, sitting in a chair all day can cause joints to feel tight and stiff. Prolonged sitting can lead to tightness in the iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscle, as well as decreased blood flow to the gluteal musculature, which assist in supporting the spine. Slouching can cause a strain on spinal ligaments and discs, leading to back pain and stiffness. Sitting for long periods also increases the likelihood of poor postural habits. When working on a computer all day, it is easy to fall into a hunched posture, with the neck forward and shoulders rounded.
To improve your postural alignment, try the following:
- Sit up straight and keep back and shoulders flat against the chair. Utilize a lumbar pillow or towel roll for extra support to your low back.
- Keep feet on the ground and avoid crossing your legs or ankles.
- Computer screen should be at eye level.
- Elbows should fall flush with the table, with wrists in neutral position on the table.
- Be creative! Use items from around the house to create a proper workstation.
- Books to increase laptop height so it is level with eyes
- Stool to place under feet if feet do not reach the floor
Proper posture can take some getting used to, so here are some exercises that can help train your postural muscles.
- Scapular Retractions – Squeeze shoulder blades down and back.
- Chin tucks – Slowly draw your head back so that your ears align with your shoulders.
- Bridges – Lying on your back with knees bent, tighten your lower abdominals, squeeze your buttocks and then raise your buttocks off the floor/bed as creating a "bridge" with your body. Hold, then lower yourself and repeat.
- Doorway stretch – Standing in a doorway, place your arms up on the door jam of the doorway frame. Step through the doorway with one foot, and bend the front knee until you feel a stretch through the chest. Your upper arms should be parallel to the ground and forearms should lie up along the doorframe, perpendicular to the ground.
Most importantly, get up and move! A study conducted by Diaz et al. (2017) showed that adults who sit for 1-2 hours straight without moving have a higher mortality rate than adults who sit for the same total amount of sitting time in shorter stints. In addition, prolonged sitting has been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. To combat this, try setting a timer to remind you to stand up to walk around and stretch every 30 minutes. This will help keep joints and muscle from stiffening up. Working in a standing position at a counter or high table for part of the day can also help keep the body more limber.
1. Columbia University Medical Center. “Long Sitting Periods May Be Just as Harmful as Daily Total.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 11 Sept. 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170911180004.htm.
2. Corliss, Julie. “Too Much Sitting Linked to Heart Disease, Diabetes, Premature Death.” Harvard Health Blog, 22 Jan. 2015, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/much-sitting-linked-heart-disease-diabetes-premature-death-201501227618.
3. Diaz, Keith M., et al. “Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults.” Annals of Internal Medicine, vol. 167, no. 7, 2017, p. 465., doi:10.7326/m17-0212.
4. Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. “Sitting Risks: How Harmful Is Too Much Sitting?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 May 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005.
5. Pronk, Nicolaas P., et al. “Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project, 2011.” Preventing Chronic Disease, vol. 9, 2012, doi:10.5888/pcd9.110323.
6. Zemp, Roland, et al. “Occupational Sitting Behaviour and Its Relationship with Back Pain – A Pilot Study.” Applied Ergonomics, vol. 56, 2016, pp. 84–91., doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2016.03.007.