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Most of the time your spine is fairly durable and flexible enough to absorb the extra pressure from sitting or standing in positions the place added strain on muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. And if any discomfort is experienced, it’s usually a temporary inconvenience that goes away with a little rest, the application of heat or cold with a heating pad or ice pack, or over-the-counter medications. If you're experiencing lingering back or neck pain, however, you may want to give some thought to how you sit, stand, or sleep throughout your day. Read on to learn what steps you can take to improve your posture and get a break from spine-related pain.
Get Up or Move More Often
Pay attention to how long you are sitting in any one position, especially if you usually stay planted in a chair at work. Constant pressure on the large paired muscles that support your lower spine (erector spinae) or the gluteal, flexor, and abdominal muscles (they provide support from the "front" of your spine) can lead to chronic low back pain (LBP). Avoid muscle stress from sitting by:
• Periodically shifting your position while sitting
• Using an ergonomically designed chair at work
• Opting for a desk that allows you to go from seating to standing positions as you work
• Taking breaks to get up and walk around and stretch
Think Function, Not Just Fashion
While those super-high heels may look sleek, they could be what's throwing your spine out of alignment. Be mindful of things like how high you go with heels or how tight you were your pants and tops. Decreased circulation and blood flow can affect tissues around the spine. If you can't do without your heels, carry a pair of comfortable shoes in your bag so you can change when you get a chance to give your feet a break and restore your normal spinal alignment.
Evenly Distribute Anything You Carry
Lugging around a heavy purse or an over-stuffed travel bag can place added stress and strain on your spine. With a purse, this often means shoulder and neck pain if the large muscle in the neck (trapezius muscle) is affected. Improve your posture as you carry anything heavy or awkward by:
• Choosing bags with wide straps
• Using wheeled luggage or bags when possible
• Evenly distributing weight in backpacks or book bags
Strengthen Core Muscles with Exercise
Strengthening your core muscles is what you'll need to do if you want go improve your posture with exercise. These are the same muscle groups that happen to support your spine and help with things like bending, twisting, and flexing. Just remember to do warm-up stretches first to avoid or minimize muscle soreness. Exercises that can help with posture include:
• Single leg extensions
• The slow, controlled movements associated with Yoga and Pilates
• Doing crunches with "curl-up" movements (curling your head and shoulders off the floor) to work the obliques that make it possible to rotate your torso
Keep Your Devices at Eye Level
An increasingly common sore of issues with poor posture is so-called "tech neck," the habit of looking downward at your various devices. Doing so places the full weight of your head on your neck, which can strain the trapezius muscles and nearby soft tissues. Improve your "tech" posture by:
• Holding your devices at eye level when texting, checking messages, or playing games
• Using a mobile device/laptop holder if you're using such devices while sitting at a table or desk
• Opting for voice prompts whenever possible to avoid excessive downward glances at your device
Avoid Awkward Sleep Positions
Posture is something you need to be aware of even when you're not awake. Sleeping in awkward positions is what often leads to morning neck stiffness or lower back pain. While you can't control how your body moves while sleeping, you can improve your posture as you sleep by:
• Using a lower single pillow to avoid throwing off your spinal alignment
• Choosing a mattress that provides the right support for your back
• Sleeping on your back or side and avoiding stomach sleeping (if you prefer this position, place a pillow under your knees to help with alignment)
If your posture may be contributing to your chronic back or neck pain, see what your doctor has to say. In some cases, consistent pressure on spine-supporting muscles can lead to inflammation that affects nerve roots. It's equally important to get an accurate diagnosis. Regardless of what's ultimately causing any discomfort you may be experiencing, taking steps to improve your posture can definitely ease pressure on your back or neck as you walk, sit, stand, bend, stretch, or rotate.