As an orthopedic spine specialist, I can tell you that your posture is essential to your health. Good posture helps reduce back and neck pain, minimizes your chances of needing spine surgery, and enables you to live an active lifestyle.
But how can you learn to practice good posture? It’s as simple as ABC.
Experience good posture
Spine specialists use the term sagittal balance to describe a patient's spinal alignment or posture. The best way to learn good sagittal balance is to experience what it feels like.
Here are the ABCs that I teach my patients to help them experience the feeling of good posture:
- Begin standing up with your hands by your thighs—slowly arch your lower back and elongate your stomach muscles.
- Gently pull your belly button towards your spine.
In this position you should feel your lower back muscles, upper torso, and shoulders aligning over your heels.
- Rotate your shoulders outward so that your thumbs are pointing away from your body.
- At the same time, draw your shoulder blades together.
Adding this step should allow you to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades.
See Neck Stretches
- With your neck muscles relaxed, look up until your ears line up over your shoulders.
- During this step it’s vital that you relax your jaw and breathe through your mouth and nose.
After step C, you should feel your elongated stomach and lower back muscles, the strong muscles between your shoulder blades, and your supporting neck muscles.
This is the feeling of good posture.
Identify poor posture habits
On top of experiencing good posture, you can protect your spine by identifying your poor posture habits. Here are some of the posture issues I see at my practice:
- In today's world of smart phones and iPads, from a young age we spend countless hours staring down at devices with our necks flexed forward and shoulders slumped. This practice is so widespread that it has led to an epidemic of back and neck pain, or “text neck,” amongst children and teenagers.
- As we grow older, we enter the workforce and spend untold hours—with few breaks—sitting at our desk while staring at a computer. This unfortunate habit deconditions our postural muscles and stiffens our spines.
- Towards retirement, the cumulative effect of decades of poor posture may result in postural kyphosis, or a permanent flexed-forward posture. A flexed-forward posture comprises quality of life by limiting function, inhibiting balance, and increasing the risk for spinal fractures and chronic back pain.
Make posture a good habit
You can quickly improve your posture by practicing the ABCs several times a day. If you feel that you need more personalized instruction and strengthening exercises, a physical therapist can evaluate your posture and provide you with additional instruction.
Remember that good posture can’t prevent all health problems. If you experience severe back/neck pain or numbness in your arms/legs consult with a spine specialist—these may be symptoms of spinal stenosis or another condition.
Take a break right now and practice your ABCs. Good posture can go a long way towards keeping your spine happy and healthy for a lifetime.