Straighten Up!: Three Tips for Better Posture While Sitting

Good posture plays an important role in preventing stress on your back, maintaining muscle flexibility, and avoiding future aches and pains. Correct posture is sitting or standing up tall so your head is in line with your trunk. Poor posture is sitting or standing with a slouch and rounded shoulders, thereby positioning your neck and head forward compared to your trunk.

Some individuals have poor posture due to spinal conditions like scoliosiskyphosis and osteoporosis (which can be addressed by your physician or physical therapist). However, the majority of us have poor posture due to weak or tight muscles and moving incorrectly. The good news is that exercise and body awareness CAN help!

People with chronic low back pain often have slouched posture due to weak and/or tight back muscles. A slouched posture can cause the low back muscles to be active for longer than normal, contributing to pain. Sitting has been shown to increase your spinal disc pressure by 145%, and sitting with poor (slouched) posture can increase that pressure up to 180%, contributing to low back pain.(p459)1

Poor posture can cause abnormal stress on your spine and can strain the muscles that help stabilize the head. (p459)1 Eighty-five percent of people with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, or jaw pain, have forward head posture. (p258)1 This position of your neck may contribute to strain on the supporting muscles, and in some cases, headaches. (p258)1

Three tips to help keep your seated posture healthy:

Bad Posture

#1: If you use computers on a daily basis, place your computer screen at eye level to help improve your neck posture.

#2: Sit on the edge of your chair and squeeze your shoulder blades together with your elbows bent at 90 degrees (as if you are pinching an egg between your shoulder blades). Squeeze for five seconds and repeat a few times every hour.

#3: When sitting, squeeze your buttock muscles together for about five to seven seconds. Repeat this action a few times every hour to help activate your core while sitting at a desk.

Physical therapy can also improve your posture. A physical therapist will evaluate which muscles need to be stretched and which ones need to be strengthened as part of your regular exercise regimen. Your physical therapist can help correct joint restrictions, stretch out your tight muscles and establish a strengthening program individualized for you. They may also recommend use of a lumbar roll, or a small towel roll placed at your low back in your car, at your desk, or in your favorite chair. This will help to support your low back and assist in sitting with good posture.

Have chronic neck pain? Read on to find out how physical therapy might help you.

1) Placzek J and Boyce D. Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Secrets. 2nd Ed, 2006