Posture (ergonomics) ranks high on the list when talking about good health. Without good posture, one’s overall health and total efficiency may be compromised.
Because the long-term effects of poor posture can affect bodily systems such as digestion, elimination, breathing, muscles, joints and ligaments, a person who has poor posture may often feel tired or unable to work efficiently or move properly.
Emmanuel Nkusi, a neurosurgeon at King Faisal Hospital, defines posture as a dynamic pattern of reflexes, habits and adaptive responses to anything that resists you being more or less upright and functional.
“Because good posture means your bones are properly aligned and your muscles, joints and ligaments can work as nature intended. It means your vital organs are in the right position and can function at peak efficiency. Good posture helps contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system,” he explains.
Nkusi further explains that ergonomics affects all functions of the body because the spine affects the nerve which eventually affects the whole body system. He advises that one should be in a position where the chair is neither high nor low but enables one have an upright position.
“The spine is the basis of posture. If your posture is bad, your spine can be misaligned. Spinal misalignments may cause interference in nerve function,” he adds.
“Poor posture destabilises your body, causing tiredness. A high chair puts pressure on your thighs, reduces the back flow of blood and can cause swelling in the legs and ankles, while a low chair disrupts blood circulation in lower legs, causing swelling, and puts pressure on internal organs,” he says.
According to Noella Kanyabutembo, a chiropractic based in Kigali, not only is back pain caused by improper sitting posture, but sitting all day. Good posture helps us keep bones and joints in correct alignment so that our muscles are used correctly, decreasing the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain. It also reduces the stress on the ligaments holding the spinal joints together, minimising the likelihood of injury.
“Correct posture is a simple but very important way to keep the many intricate structures in the back and spine healthy. Back support is especially important for people who spend many hours sitting in an office chair or standing throughout the day.
“A good posture allows muscles to work more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy and, therefore, preventing muscle fatigue. It also helps prevent muscle strain, overuse disorders, and even back and muscular pain. Sitting and standing with proper postural alignment will allow one to work more efficiently with less fatigue and strain on your body’s ligaments and muscles,” she says.
Kanyabutembo explains that the postures that people are assuming when interacting with technology have the potential to cause pain and discomfort. She adds that poor arrangement of the workstation encourages an awkward body posture.
“Being aware of good posture is the first step to breaking poor postural habits and reducing stress/strain on your spine. One risks causing injury when they use the cervical spine and lower back and don’t stretch it, or instances where one sits for 8 to 12 hours.
“The slouch or hunch is common in people working on laptops, resulting from strained attempts to use a phone and laptop at the same time. Without routinely performing exercises to improve posture, most people start experiencing the negative effects at an early age,” she says.
How to correct it
Even for younger people, how one carries himself when working, relaxing or playing can have a big impact. Nkusi explains that it is important to correct poor posture and maintain proper posture at an early stage because it becomes harder at an older age.
“Improper posture extracts a high price as you age because the longer it takes, the more difficult it is to correct. It can limit your range of motion as muscles and ligaments that have been shortened or stretched no longer function, as they should,” he says.
Posture can have a profound influence on how you feel, function, as well as your overall health. Including back training exercises in your workout regime to maintain proper posture is a must.
“The best position would be to have the natural one where the head is up and the face straight. When standing, your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should all be in a vertical line. Our knees should be straight, but not locked,” he says.
“The spine should be erect with the shoulders pulled back and then down. Raising your chin upwards more often will help fix standing posture issues. Regularly incorporating exercises can help build, strength and improve flexibility in postural muscles so that you’re better able to maintain proper spine curvatures,” Nkusi advises.
Kanyabutembo also warns that it is important to put into consideration the kind of mattress or chair one uses as they too have an effect on the curvature.
“It is important to sleep on a firm mattress as it will support the spine and help maintain the same shape as a person with good upright posture. Ensure a 90 degrees position on the hip and shoulder when seated. Sleeping on the stomach is the worst position because you can damage your lower back and the left side is the best position,” she says.
Kanyabutembo further advises people to sleep on the back without a pillow, as this position leaves the neck in a neutral position.
“Sleeping without the pillow is a good position and a good mattress but even with a cervical chiropractic pillow would be the best. If you sleep on your side, a pillow between your legs will help keep proper alignment of your spine. A pillow under your knees when you’re sleeping on your back is ideal,” she says.
TIPS FOR BETTER POSTURE
Turn the tables. Get a standing desk. Your goal is more movement, so don’t just stand there — breathe deeply and maintain good posture, since your muscles are like tiny hearts that need movement to pump blood and enhance circulation.
Do stretches and movements that open and lengthen the muscles in the front of your body, such as your chest, forearms and biceps and the big muscles that are at the front and sides of the hips. Try reaching for the sky while lunging.
Exercises for the upper body (backside) that simulate rowing or pulling, and require you to pull your shoulder blades down and. At the same time, go easy on bench press-type exercises or excessive push-ups. Focus instead on seated rows or standing rows, and pull-ups.
Breathe slowly — in through your nose, and fill your belly. Hold for a few full seconds. Then, with your tongue held lightly against the roof of your mouth, slowly let the breath out. Practice this throughout the day to decrease stress and improve posture. Check out this blog for more breathing tips.
For best posture practice, do these three movements. Roll your shoulders down and back, then pull your elbows back toward your back pants pockets (this presses your scapula up against your ribs, as though you were using them to push your heart up and out).
Learn to do wall angels.
Stand on your entire foot. Most people stand with weight over their heels, which causes your feet to become weak and turn in, which increases stress on your weight-bearing joints (ankles, knees, hips and lower back).
Whether standing or sitting, become ergonomically sound with your computer setup. Keep your eyes level with the top of monitor, elbows and wrists straight at 90-degree angles.
Take a picture. Print photos of proper posture and put them up where you can see them easily, and even set a timer to be reminded every 20-30 minutes to correct your posture. In time, this will become automatic and you will self correct with very little effort.
Use props and tools, such as lumbar support pillows and seat wedges that help maintain normal spinal curves when sitting to decrease posture stress.
Wear posture-enhancing shirts and sports bras that support proper posture and cue your posture muscles to engage, while training your upper back and core muscles to become stronger and more posture fit.
Have your doctor or therapist use posture taping to help you become more aware of your current posture-improvement needs.
Move often and use all of your motion. Try every day to play with the kids, your pets or even play around in your garden. Remember to never bend over, but instead hinge from your hips.
Challenge your balance. Walk on sand, any safe uneven surface and use a balance or wobble board. Use bare feet or the most thin sole possible, so nerve receptors in your feet can help your nervous system, brain and muscles connect more efficiently to create better coordination. This helps your posture and helps to smooth your quality of movement.