For many people, back pain doesn’t come from an injury or other acute cause. Instead, the regular stresses that are placed on the body are the culprit. If you’re at the gym or doing yoga, there’s a trainer or teacher making sure you keep the right form. But what about when you’re at home or at work?
Having improper form when you’re doing simple, everyday activities like sitting at a desk, unloading groceries from your car, or standing at your kitchen counter can strain your muscles and place an extraordinary amount of pressure on your nerves. Just leaning over the sink while you’re washing dishes can increase the pressure on your back by 50%!
Your back can handle quite a bit, but that extra load can be too much. Over time, poor posture can lead to chronic pain. When you’re practicing good posture, you’re in what’s called a “neutral position” for your spine. If you stoop or slouch, however, you’re giving your spine and your muscles extra work.
What’s the best way to avoid adding that extra tension? When you’re standing up, you want to have the parts of your body “stacked” one above the other. Your belly should be pulled in, and your shoulders back and relaxed, so that they’re above your hips. (When you’re standing straight up, your back isn’t completely straight — your spine should have a natural curve in the lumbar region.) Keep your feet beneath your hips, with weight balanced evenly on each foot. Also important (even though it’s something that can be hard to do when you’re used to looking down at a cell phone): Keep your head up and straight ahead, rather than tilted forward, backward, or to the side. Having your head tilted places a tremendous amount of pressure on your cervical spine. Instead of looking down at your phone or book, hold it up higher in front of you.
Posture is also important when you’re sitting down, especially if you have a desk job that keeps you planted for long periods of time. Again, you want to have your upper back and neck straight, and be able to look ahead. If your computer monitor is too high, too low, or too far away, move it so that you can use it comfortably without having to crane your neck. Keep your shoulders relaxed and in line with your hips, just as you would when standing.
If you’re seated for long stretches, having the right chair can make a major difference in your back health. You should be able to sit back in your chair and have it support the curve in the lumbar region of your back. If it doesn’t, place a support pillow (or roll up a small pillow or towel) to help make it ergonomically correct. You should be able to rest both of your feet flat on the floor while seated, keeping your knees level with your hips. If you can’t adjust your chair’s seat height, use a footstool or another support to prop up your feet.
Basic preventative measures like practicing proper posture can make a major difference in your back health. If you’re experiencing chronic back pain and looking for relief, the Spine Institute Northwest may be able to help. Call us at 888-712-0318 to learn more.