It is one of those things many of us know we need to work on, but few of us know exactly what to do. Here is the handy guide you can bookmark on everything you need to know to improve your posture.
Make good posture a part of your daily routine, and soon it will become a natural habit.
What is Bad Posture?
Why do humans walk on two legs?
Bipedalism, the art of walking on two legs, is exclusive to humans. None of our nearest relatives, including the great apes, walk exclusively on two legs. Whilst walking upright expends less energy than on all fours, it does put more pressure on the spine. Evolutionary scientists believe that we started to walk on two legs because it allowed us to move around quicker. This meant we could cover greater distances, faster. That is only the case when we walk though. If we run, we lose all advantage with regard to saving energy. The result of our ancestors deciding that they preferred to get around on two legs, is that the skeleton has evolved around this type of posture.
What has changed in the human skeleton since our quadruple ancestors?
Weight distribution around our skeletal form has slowly adjusted over many thousands of years, such as:
- Heels on the feet have become bigger
- Hip joints are larger
- The spine sits closer to the hips
- The Pelvis has evolved into a different shape
- Knee joints have enlarged
- The birth canal has become broader
- Muscles have developed in different areas of the body, to allow for the change in gait
- The spine has evolved in many ways, allowing it to take the extra weight, and it now has to support the weight of the skull
Yet, despite these modifications, we have adapted poorly to these changes. Humans have become plagued with joint problems, such as arthritis. As a result of walking upright, bipedalism has led to the development of bad posture, which then leads to all sorts of skeletal problems. Most of us have developed bad posture by the time we are adults. In effect, we are guilty of being a little lazy, and not using our muscles correctly, both at home and in the workplace. Strong muscles help to prevent joint problems. This means we need to think about our posture, rather than just allowing the muscles to relax and slacken.
What is construed as bad posture?
- Slouching rounded shoulders
- Bent curved back, when sitting or walking
- Slumped neck, causing head to droop
- Leaning on one leg, causing pelvic tilt
- Standing with feet pointing inwards (pigeon toes)
- Standing with feet pointing outwards (duck feet)
Try a Posture Correction Brace to give your chest and shoulders a push in the right direction. Posture Brace
Here is some information on what a Posture Correction Brace can do for you
What will bad posture do to you?
Slouching and drooping posture will take a toll on your skeletal structure, causing damage that will increase with age. The spine, and all joints connected to limbs, will suffer first. There is a strong likelihood that nerves may become trapped. Pinched nerves cause considerable and debilitating pain. A pain that radiates out to other areas of your body. You could also suffer headaches, and pins and needles to your extremities, such as hands and feet. Because muscles are not used in the correct way, they weaken. This only serves to exasperate the problem. Those with bad posture and gait, can often end up with their frame becoming misaligned, such as one shoulder higher than the other.
Is it too late?
The problem of bad posture is much easier to rectify if you become aware of it at a younger age. The longer you have it, the worse the effects will be. It is better for your bones, if you notice this at a young age and correct it. Though, it is never too late to try and improve your posture, and indeed, it is best to correct it, at any age. Look at yourself in a mirror. It may surprise you when you notice just just how much your body is bending, as you stand still or walk.
Let’s first take a look at some of the symptoms of pain that you can suffer from bad posture.
Symptoms of bad posture
There are many aches and pains that the body can experience, all because of bad posture. The complications of not maintaining good posture, can result in: spinal dysfunction, joint degeneration along with general aches and pains.
What’s happening to our muscles?
What’s happening to our nerves?
As muscles shrink, and the spine column is contracts, so too is our nervous system impeded. Nerves can become trapped in all this unnatural movement. There are 2 main nerve networks known as the “Phrenic” nerves. They branch from the neck and through the spinal cord, to pass around the heart and on to the lungs. One of these nerve branches, is a direct link to the diaphragm.
Interesting Facts about the Phrenic Nerve Network:
An irritated Phrenic nerve results in hiccups?
Somatic pain is a result of something going wrong in the Phrenic system.
With a direct motor link to the diaphragm function, this is how we breath.
TIP – Good posture allows the network of nerves to spread out in a natural branch, avoiding pain and numbness.
Why would we hinder our nervous system?
As we have demonstrated already, poor posture will effect the circulatory and nervous systems. The nervous system needs to be able to spread, as does the circulatory system. If we go around slouched, we restrict these networks. In the worse case scenario, we are actually crushing them, as in trapped nerves. Oxygen will struggle to get into your arteries, and the tiny branch work of nerves can become trapped. A trapped nerve can cause direct shooting pains, which can be excruciating, and it also weaken the nerve. In the extreme, it could die, because it can no longer receive signals from the brain.
TIP – Why would we voluntarily do this to ourselves? All it needs is a little effort to practice good posture.
What’s happening to our circulatory system?
In order for the veins to receive a good amount of oxygen and nutrients, we should not restrict them in any way. Yet, we have seen that poor posture does just that. It puts a squeezing pressure on all the lifeline networks that the human body needs. This includes muscles, nerves, bones and arteries. If we crush our veins, then they cannot receive the food they need in the form of oxygen and nutrients. Bad posture leads directly to difficulties in breathing.
TIP – Already we have seen that bad posture can affect the Phrenic nerve, which helps our diaphragm function. Not only are you struggling to breathe, but the heart is having to work harder to pump the blood around your squeezed veins. Standing and sitting upright will allow the entire system to function smoother and to be more efficient.
Never sit wrong again, get a Posture Trainer in your chair Posture Trainer Learn how to sit straight and stop those aches
What’s happening to our digestive system?
It stands to reason that if the body is crushed with poor posture, then the stomach and intestines are going to struggle to function as well. Not only should we be eating a healthy diet for our digestive system to function smoother, but we should be giving it the room it needs inside of our body. A slouching position can cause reflux, hernias and a belly pouch. All those internal organs have to go somewhere. So when our body is bending instead of straight, they will protrude outwards to create a large belly.
TIP – What a difference standing and sitting upright can make to your intestines – no more egg shaped belly. Your stomach can now stretch to its normal shape within the body’s cavity.
Exercises for bad posture problems
Let us now look at the possible damages to your body from bad posture, and what we can do to improve the effects using exercise.
What does hunchback posture mean?
HUNCHBACK – The best way to see if your back hunches forward as you walk, is to look at yourself in a mirror or window as you pass by. It may shock you to see the curvature of your spine, and how your head is looking down all the time. This problem can also be exasperated by sitting hunched over a desk for long periods of time.
- Chest muscles are tightening causing difficulties in breathing.
A consequence of walking or sitting with a hunch in the back, is that the muscles in your chest become compressed. You need to stretch that chest back again, which will help clear the airways. One simple way to do this anywhere, is to place your hand around the edge of an open door. Place the hand level with your shoulder. Walk until your arm is outstretched. Now walk towards the door, without bending your arm, until you are flat against it. Then walk back out again. It is important to keep your hand still, in the same place. Repeat this with each arm for at least 3 times. Once you are doing this correctly, you should feel the pull on your chest muscles.
What do rounded shoulders mean?
ROUND SHOULDERS – Once again caused by hunching over in your posture. More so when you are sitting at a desk. A good test to see if you slouch your head forward, is to check if your ear lobe is level with the V shape on the bones of your shoulder (AD joint). If your ears are forward to that point, then you are slouching.
- Chest muscles are tightening causing difficulties in breathing. Extend your arms upwards so you form a “Y” shape.
There are a number of exercises that can help with your posture, and straighten up those round shoulders.
Lay on the floor, stomach down. Turn your hands so your palms face upwards and lift your chest off the ground. Count to 10 and rest. Repeat at least 10 times if you can.
Kneel up so your are on your knees. Place both hands behind your back, intertwining the fingers of one hand into the other. Take a deep breath and slowly lift your arms upwards, as high as you can. Hold it for a few seconds. Exhale as you relax and put your arms down. Repeat this exercise up to 10 times if you can.
What is Tilting Pelvis?
- Leaning on one leg when standing can place pressure on one side of your lower back, and on the hip you are leaning on. Eventually, this will tilt the pelvis. Try to keep your balance even in its distribution, when you are standing still.
Here are a few exercises which will help rectify a tilting pelvis.
Lay on your side and prop yourself up on one elbow. Cradle your ear in your hand. With the other arm, bend it and place your hand on your hip. Slightly tilt your upper hip forward, and lift your leg in a straight line. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat up 10 times if you can. Turn over and do the same with the other leg.
Turn over and onto your back. Tighten your tummy muscles, forcing your back to press against the floor. With your feet flat to the ground, and knees bent upwards, push down and lift your pelvis slightly off the floor. Hold this for at least 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat this exercise at least ten times.
Causes of neck pain
- NECK PAIN – Holding a phone between your shoulder and ear on a regular basis will cause neck pain. This is putting strain on the soft tissue of your shoulder and neck. The muscles adjoining the neck to the shoulder will need loosening.
Stand or sit and slowly lower the ear down to the shoulder. Count to 10 and repeat on the other side. Try and do this without raising the shoulder. Repeat this exercise at least 5 times for each side.
Stand upright, looking straight forward. Slowly turn your head to one side as far as you can, until you feel the muscles in your neck begin to tighten. Hold that position for 10 seconds before moving the head back to a forward position. Now do the same for the other side. Repeat this exercise at least 5 times for each side
A stretching routine is an excellent way to loosen up before you start exercising. It is also good for your posture and blood circulation. Here are a few to get you started.
- BACK = Stand, with your feet slightly apart. Put your right foot forward a strides length, keep you hands on your hips to help with balance. Squat down, bending both knees, with your back straight until you touch the floor with you left leg. Breathe in as you squat, and out as you rise back up. Repeat 4 times, then do the same for the other leg..
- SIDES = Stand with your feet together. Arms stretched upwards with hands meeting and fingers pointing upwards. Lean arms to one side and as you lean, breath in. As you go back to the middle, breath out. Do this 5 times on one side, then repeat on the other..
- CHEST – Stand, with your feet slightly apart. Hands clasped behind your back (or hold a cloth with both hands, behind your back). Bend forward and breath in, arms will go upwards. Hold for 5 seconds. As you go upright breath out. Repeat 5 times..
Watch this video to give you a few more ideas
A great product for all those posture training exercises Anti Burst Ball
What About Food and Posture?
Exercise is one way to make sure your bones and muscles stay strong. A healthy diet is also instrumental in ensuring you have a strong foundation to begin with. As we age, our bones become more brittle, and our muscles weaken, because we are not as active. With regular exercise, and a healthy diet full of the right nutrients, then your body can support you well into old age.
Feed Your Bones
What foods will keep your bones healthy?
Calcium is one of those building block minerals, that helps to keep your bones strong. It is also essential for other body functions. Helping to clot our blood, ensuring muscles stay strong, and even assisting the nerves to communicate with our brain. We lose calcium from our body, daily. This is through the body’s natural functions, such as perspiration, urination and defecation. Yet the body is unable to produce its own source of calcium. If we do not eat enough of this essential mineral, then our body needs to find it elsewhere. The bones are the biggest source of calcium as they store it. If there is a deficiency, then the the muscles and nerves will take calcium from the bones, and this weakens them. The more calcium stored in your bones, the better the density and strength. It is important to eat foods with natural sources of calcium. This includes dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yoghurt. Also green vegetables. If you cannot eat these foods for dietary reasons or allergies, then you need to take supplements, such as vitamin D and Calcium supplements. They are not expensive and can be bought at places such as Amazon, Nordic Naturals
TIP – Sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D, though don’t stay in the sun’s rays for too long.
Feed Your Blood
What foods will keep our arteries healthy?
A common problem facing many in the modern world is high blood pressure. This is a serious disease and can lead to many serious and life threatening illnesses such as strokes and heart attacks. When you have your blood pressure read, there are two different numbers and a healthy reading should be about 120/80, although that is dependant on age. The top number is measuring what is called systolic pressure, this is the pressure in your arteries when the heart muscle contracts, this is when it beats. The lower number measures diastolic pressure, this is the pressure between beats. Both numbers are important but the top more so, when this is high it can indicate the risk of cardiovascular disease. Being alert and healthy is all a part of being able to keep good posture. If we are lethargic and tired, then we are more likely to slouch. A healthy diet will not only raise our energy levels, it will also be good for the heart, reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart diseases. To help ensure a healthy heart, we want a healthy cholesterol level. High cholesterol can indicate that the arteries are blocked with fat, which increases our blood pressure.
- Stay away from foods that contain extra salt and sugars, such as processed foods. Make them an occasional treat rather than part of your staple diet.
- You should be looking for alkaline foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Dark chocolate has flavonoids in, which studies indicate is good for the blood circulation. Use herbs and spices such as: ginger which can help with the digestive system, cayenne this can increases the metabolic system that breaks up food in your system, garlic and other bulb related foods, known as allium foods, such as onions, shallots and leeks, all help to prevent lipids build up and reduce bad cholesterol.
- Cut back on acid producing foods, such as caffeine based drinks, sodas, fried food, alcohol, high fat foods and too much meat.
- Increase your protein and decrease your carbohydrates.
TIP – with strong bones and healthy arteries, you feel more energetic and you are less likely to slouch in your posture.
Feed Your Muscles
What foods will keep your muscles healthy?
Protein, also known as amino acids, is a building block of body tissue. It will ensure you have strong muscles, and help repair any damage to them. Damage may occur from exercise or overwork but also from eating the wrong kinds of foods, such as sugar. Excessive unrefined sugar can cause muscle tension and cramps. Of course simply eating the right food is not all you need to do to help strengthen muscles, regular exercise is required too. People with certain illnesses, such as arthritis, need strong muscles to help take strain away from the worn joints. Arthritis can encourage lazy posture so building up muscle strength is very important for those who suffer this condition.
Unfortunately its not as simple as just eating protein, not all proteins are created equal, so let’s take a look at them and which one is the most beneficial for strengthening our muscles.
- Casein – is a slow releasing protein that takes time to digest. That way all those important and essential amino acids can steadily be passed into the bloodstream. It is high in calcium and milk is an ideal source of Casein protein. Drinking a glass of milk before bed will gradually release its goodness into your body as you sleep.
- Whey – this is initially a liquid that is a by-product of cheese. The processing has removed all the fats and carbohydrate sugars. You can buy whey as a powder, which is a dietary supplement full of protein. Again it will encourage those amino acids that fuel muscle fiber. Dietary supplements are only needed in small amounts unless you have a medical condition, so you don’t need to consume a lot of whey. It is also used by people who practice endurance sports, to assist them in excess muscle build up.
- Other foods that are rich in protein are eggs, yoghurt, fish, meat and nuts, beans, peas.
- Too much protein puts strain on the kidneys, leading to dehydration. Like any foods, don’t overdo it with protein, it’s all about a healthy balanced diet.
Other Factors of Bad Posture
Bad posture can stem from many different factors, here are a few possible causes:
Being over weight will put strain on your lower back. It will also place excessive pressure on the hinge joints of your ankle and knee. All are problems which contribute to poor posture. It can also put immense pressure on the legs and lead to varicose veins.
Bad fitting shoes
Bad fitting footwear can, not only damage the arches in your feet, but also lead to a whole range of other conditions. Shoes that are too small, can lead to bunions and hammer toes. These conditions changes the shape of your toes, which will effect your natural posture. Avoid tight fitting shoes and high heels, which will effect how you stand and walk.
If your mattress does not support your body as you lay in bed, it will not only give you restless sleep, but you will also suffer from back pain. Constant pain in your back will contribute to poor posture, as you try to accommodate your body’s position to the pain. Old mattresses tend to sag in the middle, causing your body to curve, as well as causing other health issues. A mattress which has inadequate support is not good for the alignment of your spine while you sleep. If your mattress is over eight years old, you should consider replacing it.
It is much the same story with your pillow. The pillow should only support your head and neck while you sleep, not the shoulders. This means that your upper body is at the same level as your lower body. An unsupportive pillow will lead to neck and shoulder pain. Once again resulting in poor posture during the day. Use pillows to support other parts of your body while you sleep. For those who sleep on their sides, a pillow between the legs helps keep the body from twisting. This can alleviate any pressure from where the knees touch.
The correct sleeping position is with only your head and neck supported by your pillow. Do not place your shoulders on the pillow because this will elevate your upper body higher than your lower body. If necessary you could try rolling up a hand towel and placing it in your pillow to fill the gap between your neck and shoulder.
Here’s an unusual pillow that you could consider using, while you re-align your sleeping position for a good night’s sleep Easy Side Sleeper Pillow
The Habit of Good Posture
Keeping the joints in your body well aligned, has many benefits for posture, and will make you feel more comfortable. Force yourself to keep your head upright, neck straight, and shoulders level. Make sure you are not turning out, or inwards, your toes or knees. This way of standing and sitting will soon become second nature. Use abdominal muscles to pull in your stomach, instead of letting it push outwards and spread.
Think about standing tall, with level shoulders and chest high. If you don’t already stand like this, it means you have bad posture and it may seem uncomfortable at first. Yet, once you begin to align your bones and joints correctly, it will take the pressure off the joints. This will allow the muscles to do their job, and before you know it, it will begin to feel right. Think of the ligaments as something that holds your joints together. Put strain on those ligaments, and you joints will become damaged. wear and tear results in poor posture and pain.
You need to raise your awareness about body posture. Be conscious about what you are doing wrong. It will feel strange after years of slouching, almost unnatural. It may even cause a few extra aches and pains, while your frame realigns itself. Bear with it, it will be worth it in the end. It is never too late to rectify your posture. Studies show that good posture leads to feeling healthier. Put aches, pains and fatigue behind you forever. All these conditions will begin to improve, once you make that conscious effort of standing and sitting in the correct manner for your frame.
Remember: back straight, head and chin up, knees and feet forward, shoulders even, stomach in, chest out, bottom in. There, that was easy. Practice that all day, every day, and soon bad posture will be a thing of the past.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.