Your mother, grandmother or great aunt Agnes telling you to sit up straight wasn’t just to annoy you.
Truth is, your posture and back health is more crucial to your total well-being than you think.
“Proper posture is any position that allows you to keep a good balance, standing or seated, to minimize the effect of fatigue on your muscles,” said Dr. Ted Dreisinger, clinical research coordinator for U.S. Spine and Sport Foundation.
The back has a natural curve in the shape of an S. That slight bend from your neck to your lower back needs to be maintained so the back isn’t exaggerated or flattened.
To maintain a comfortable position, people also continuously shift their body. To correct those bad habits, Cheri Wenger, director of rehabilitation services of Clarian West Back & Neck Center says when sitting, the body should be at the back of the chair with both feet flat on the floor.
“Let the chair support you and keep your shoulders back,” said Wenger. She also suggests a towel or small pillow at the lower back to maintain the back’s natural curve.
Dreisinger adds that when standing the ears should be over your shoulders and your chin should be back so your head isn’t leaning forward. The shoulders should be over the hips.
Although it takes a conscious thought and repetition to sit and stand properly, many of the reasons individuals have poor posture stems from having a poor core muscle tone in the back and abdomen.
Poor posture may be uncomfortable, but to some, it can lead to serious back pain. The most common among back issues is lower back pain, which can be caused by a number of reasons from sneezing too hard to lifting a heavy object the wrong way.
Furthermore, back pain can affect your muscle strength in your arms or legs, sensation, or bowels/bladder.
“Any movement can cause injury. Considering we move all the time, it’s remarkable we don’t have more injuries,” said Dr. Nathan Prahlow, co-medical director of Clarian West Back & Neck Center.
For those who have serious injuries, Prahlow states having surgery is oftentimes the very last resort. In some conditions patients may find relief with physical therapy or medication. He warns patients who do opt to have surgery to be certain surgery will in fact eliminate their pain.
Prahlow adds most of the time people with back pain get better in four to six weeks without treatment. If pain lasts considerably longer, there’s weakness in other limbs or one finds themselves changing normal activities to seek help immediately.
Other red flags include: falling, significant neurological problems, the possibility of bleeding, a history of cancer or pain that is worse when lying down.
There is no way to prevent all back injuries, however all individuals can work to improve balance and reduce their chances of possible back pain.
Wenger and Prahlow recommend strengthening the abdominal, back and hamstring muscles and building flexibility.
“In particular you should strengthen the muscles in your shoulder blades and the muscles of your lower back,” said Dreisinger.
“If you have nagging back pain don’t ignore it; you don’t have to live with pain,” said Wenger. “Sometimes it can be resolved by just getting on a good exercise routine. Don’t think that you can do it until the pain is gone. Exercise should be a way of life. If you’re active and something does happen, you’ll recover quicker.”
For more information, call (317) 217-BACK or visit www.clarian.org.