If there’s one common physical weakness between people of all ages it would be poor posture. With the advent of technology in the form of computers, gaming devices, cell phones and i-pads, slumped shoulders, rounded backs and forward heads are no longer a condition reserved for the aging. The problems associated with this condition are many. No matter what our age, it will take mindfulness, determination, and practice to promote the habit of good posture.
Sitting with Good Posture
The normal curves of the spine should be maintained while seated. However, we usually can’t or don’t think about how we’re sitting, and the spine tends to assume the contour of the back support of the chair. If the support is inadequate, it is nearly impossible to maintain good posture over long periods of time. Significant time sitting with poor posture can cause over-stretching or shortening of ligaments and muscles, pain syndromes, and permanent postural changes.
Develop an awareness of what good posture feels like. Sit way back in the chair with feet flat on the floor and a small arch in the lower back. Some chairs are designed to support the normal curve of the lower back. If the chair is not supportive, a commercial low-back support pillow, a small pillow, or a rolled up bath towel may be used. Even placing the forearm or a rolled up jacket in the small of the back can provide temporary support for the lower back. Sitting with adequate support to the lower back promotes correct postural alignment of the upper back and neck.
Standing with Good Posture
Standing with good posture also means that the normal spinal curves are present. Sometimes, the normal inward curve of the lower back may be exaggerated while standing. Prolonged standing with an excessive inward curve aggravates lower back pain. When standing for prolonged periods, place a small stool under one foot to decrease the excessive curve. This positioning can help to alleviate lower back pain by temporarily correcting the lower back posture.
Sleeping with Good Posture
Even when lying down and sleeping, the normal curves of the spine should be maintained to support good posture. The mattress should be firm enough that it does not sag under the heaviest part of the body, yet soft enough to accommodate the normal curves.
While lying on your back, the pillow should be fairly flat to keep the head in good alignment with the spine. If a thick pillow is used, a forward-head posture is promoted. Additional support for the natural inward curve of the neck may increase neck comfort. Commercial neck pillows with additional support around the edges are available. A bath towel, rolled from one end to the other, can be placed in the edge of the pillowcase to add neck support when using a standard pillow.
When side-lying, the head should also be kept in alignment with the rest of the spine. A thicker pillow may be necessary, especially for a larger person, to accommodate the distance from the neck to the tip of the shoulder. Extra support for the inward curve of the neck can be obtained, as above.
If lower back pain is present, additional low-back support may be beneficial while in bed. A large bath sheet or a beach towel can be rolled from one side to the other, forming a long tube. The tube can be wrapped around the waist and the ends taped or pinned together. The rolled up towel supports the inward curve of the low back when lying supine, and the inward curve of the waist when side-lying. Sometimes, placing pillows under the knees can also alleviate lower back pain. This should be a very short-term measure, however, because the position promotes soft tissue tightness of the hips and knees.