“Sit up tall young man!” How many times did I hear that growing up?! My name’s Jacob and I am a physiotherapist with MyPlace Physio, and yes, you bet, it’s confession time – I used to be a chronic sloucher!

Since I was about 13 years old and finally started to grow, those around me; teachers, parents, and friends would tell me off for slouching, and I would complain about niggling neck and midback pain. Sound familiar? Sound like your teenage son or daughter or your partner? The reality is that slouching or poor posture over a prolonged period of time is not good for you. And we all do it, or most of us at least. But why and if it’s a problem, how can I fix it?

These days, I’m living proof you can change your slouching ways and improve your niggling neck or back pain. But if you’re in the habit of slouching, gravity is not going to go away anytime soon to fix the problem for you, so you’re going to have to take a more active approach and make some small changes that could help relieve your pain and improve your posture in big ways.

Below are 6 top tips to help improve your posture and move towards enjoying a more pain-free you.

1. Strengthen your core and postural anti-gravity muscles!

 

Whether we like it or not, gravity is constantly pulling us down toward the ground. Our bodies are amazing things and it’s our anti-gravity (or postural) muscles that help us maintain postures that are favourable and help us maintain good postures. Maintaining good postures, where our joints, muscles, and structures are aligned favourably, requires postural muscles to work for long periods of time without fatiguing. Doing specific strengthening and local muscles endurance training of our core muscles and postural muscles is key to overcoming postural pain. Your physiotherapist will be able to assess which specific muscles need to be doing more and which ones are overactive, and then develop an exercise program for you.

These days there are heaps of options for ways to strengthen your core and postural muscles, and choosing one that you enjoy and can commit to regularly is the key. Some examples include:

  • Physio-led Clinical exercise classes:  These are small group size classes (normally 2-6), where your treating physio takes you through a specifically tailored exercise program to help address your postural weaknesses and help you get stronger. These classes are excellent as they are more targeted to your specific needs and injury history than big group classes.
  • Pilates classes at your local pilates studio: 20 years ago these were unheard of, but these days, they are everywhere. Sitting has been described as the new killer, so the idea is to mix up sit and stand time to make your body work in different ways. Variety is the spice of life. Some people will find the mix different. I have some patients who stand all day as they find that’s better for them, and others who mostly sit. Your physiotherapist should be able to recommend a good mix based on your injury history and presentation.
  • Gym Programs – 1:1 or group classes: If you’re the type that loves getting into the gym, there are plenty of gym-based postural exercises that you can do to get stronger and work on your posture. Your physio will be able to help you develop a gym program. Group classes, like HIIT classes, can also be great for getting stronger and fitter, but won’t usually specifically target your individual needs as much as other exercise forms.
  • Home exercise programs: Home exercise programs can be developed by your treating physiotherapist to help you get done at home, in your own time, the strengthening required to improve your posture.
  • Yoga Fitness Classes: Yoga classes that focus on exercise and fitness can be great for improving overall mobility, and strength and stability. 

2. Improve your Mobility!

 

Another factor that can sometimes contribute to poor posture and postural-related pain is poor mobility. While this may not apply to hypermobile people, if you have stiffness and tightness in the joints and muscles in certain areas, this may cause you to be unable to get into and maintain optimal postures.

Your treating physiotherapist will be able to assess what areas are tight and what joints and muscles may need to be stretched, foam rolled, and/or triggered. Good mobility enables you to get into good postures. Strength and local muscle endurance then enable us to maintain good postures over time.

3. Improve your sitting and standing posture

 

  • Neutral Spine: If you’re sitting down, maintain a neutral spine by sitting back in your chair with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Often times a lumbar support can help with this and/or a pillow in the small of your back if sitting on the couch. Avoid slouching or leaning forward for extended periods where possible.
  • Feet Flat on the Floor: If you’re sitting, keep your feet flat on the ground, with your knees at hip level or slightly below. Use a footrest if necessary to support proper alignment.
  • For Standing Posture: Think as if there’s a rope pulling you from your head up towards the roof or sky. Stand tall and try and maintain a minor little chin tuck. This will help take pressure off your cervical spine and help you engage your core postural muscles. Your treating physiotherapist will be able to assess and coach you through where best sitting and standing posture is,  and show you exercises to help you get stronger to maintain better posture.

4. Desk Ergonomics

  • If you’re like me and spend a good portion of your day or week in front of a computer, you’ll want to make sure your workstation set-up is as good as can be. 

    • Monitor Height: Position your computer with the top of the monitor at about eye level. This will minimize your time spent looking down for prolonged periods and loading up your neck facets, joints, and muscles. Local computer stores sell laptop stands which are a lifesaver or go old school and use a bunch of old books stacked on top of each other to get your monitor at the right height.
    • Get an external Keyboard and Mouse: If you use a laptop regularly, I’d recommend getting an external keyboard and mouse. This enables you to have more freedom in your workstation set-up and enables you to elevate your laptop to the right height, while not overloading your neck and shoulders.
    • Get a sit-to-stand desk: 20 years ago these were unheard of, but these days, they are everywhere. Sitting has been described as the new killer, so the idea is to mix up sit and stand time to make your body work in different ways. Variety is the spice of life. Some people will find the mix different. I have some patients who stand all day as they find that’s better for them, and others mostly sit. Your physiotherapist should be able to recommend a good mix based on your injury history and presentation.

    5. Take Breaks and Move Regularly

    • MOVE! – Take Micro-breaks: Take short breaks every 30 minutes to stand up, stretch, and change your posture. Simple stretches for your neck, shoulders, and back can help prevent stiffness. Move – get up, get a coffee. Your neck and back will thank you for it! Ultimately, we simply weren’t designed to sit all day or stay in the same position for hours and hours.
    • Take Eye Breaks: Follow the 20-20-20 rule for computer use – every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to reduce eye strain. Once again, our bodies like variety. 

    6. Check your Sleeping Postures and Habits

    • Mattress and Pillow Support: Choosing a mattress and pillow that provide adequate support for your spine is the aim. The aim is to have your neck in a relatively neutral position, so not too low or high.  Your pillow should support the natural curve of your neck, and your mattress should keep your spine aligned in a neutral position. You need to match your pillow with your mattress and body type, as a firmer mattress will lend towards a thicker pillow and a plush mattress lends towards a thinner pillow for side sleeping.
    • Sleeping Positions: Generally as a physiotherapist, I recommend people to sleep on their back or side rather than their stomach, as stomach sleeping can strain the neck and spine. This was a big one for me a teenager. I get it – stomach sleeping can be super comfy, but it’s not helping your neck pain, unfortunately.

    Conclusion

    You can change your posture to be better! A passive massage alone won’t do it for you, but by taking the above active recommended approaches and applying the above principles, you can move towards getting pain-free today!

    If you experience persistent postural neck or back pain or tightness, our team of senior physiotherapists would love to help improve your posture and health!

     

    Visit www.myplacephysio.com.au or call us today at MyPlace Physio on 0420 860 797 to book or for more information.

     

    Jacob Taylor (Director & Lead Physio) and the MyPlace Phyiso Team.

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    References

     

    Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). The importance of good posture. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-good-posture

    Spine-Health. (2021). How to maintain good posture. https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/how-maintain-good-posture