You've been hearing it since you were a kid: "Sit up straight." The truth is, there's something to it. Poor posture can lead to back and neck pain—conditions often requiring chronic pain management (yeah, not fun). It might also be the cause of those continuous headaches—not to mention arthritic symptoms and fatigue. Ready to straighten out? We asked Dr. Gerard Clum, president of Life Chiropractic College West and member of the board of directions of the World Federation of Chiropractic, how to improve your posture. Here's what he had to say.
STEP 1: CHECK YOURSELF
So what does proper posture (look like? Start by standing sideways in front of a full-length mirror. Now turn your head to check out the view. What you should be able to do is draw an imaginary straight line from your earlobe to your hip to your knee and the center of your ankle. Sitting down? With your feet flat on the floor, push your butt back to the end of the chair so your back is completely supported and your weight's equally distributed on both hips. Then push your shoulders back to take the strain off of your neck muscles.
STEP 2: KNOW THE SYMPTOMS
If you don't work at proper posture, chances are, you'll start to suffer from aches and stiffness that could have you dealing with chronic pain management down the road. For now, bad posture can leave you with headaches, fatigue (it takes way more energy to unnaturally support yourself) and tight back and neck muscles. Most people feel the symptoms of poor posture in the muscles around the base of the neck and near the shoulder blades. If you don't learn how to improve posture, you could find yourself in trouble later in life. Here's how it works: Years of putting extra strain on your back and neck can actually remodel the bone, which could lead to arthritic symptoms. Muscle irritations, vascular disturbances and neck, arm and even leg pain are also possible.
STEP 3: TAKE ACTION
One of the best ways to attain proper posture is to avoid sitting or standing in one position for too long. If you work at a desk all day, get up and move around every half hour. Also, make sure your workstation is set up properly, with your computer screen at eye level (looking up an extra five inches all day, five days a week can become a big pain in the neck—pun intended). Position your keyboard so your shoulders aren't cramped up. And don't be afraid to ask for an ergonomic chair, mouse pad and keyboard.
Another tip on how to improve posture: Work your core. Sure, crunches and cardio are great for your abs, but it's also important to strengthen muscles in the back to achieve and/or maintain proper posture. Think of this as your base—if it's not solid, that "straight line" will start to wobble.
STEP 4: TALK TO A PRO
If you find yourself dealing with chronic pain management due to poor posture, don't go it alone. A chiropractor can assess your injuries and realign your back if necessary. He or she can also point out of you have any predispositions to bad posture that could set you up for back pain, such as having one leg longer than the other or spinal malformations. Body changes such as weight gain or loss and pregnancy can also take a toll on your musculoskeletal system, which a doctor can help you with. Happy to just crack on your own? There are two schools of thought on this: One is that cracking your back is just like cracking your muscles; it's just a temporary release of gas built up in the joint that provides short term relief to the surrounding area. The other is that self-adjusting—especially to the neck—may cause misalignment and do more harm than good. Your best bet: Stretch during the day, move around and seek a professional for help with chronic pain.