Improving Your Posture for Better Spine Health

Having good posture is so much more than sitting up straight or not slouching. According to Robin Dean, PT, OMPT, ProMedica Total Rehab, posture involves the entire body, and includes how you stand and move. Understanding how to better support your movement with good posture may help prevent pain and injury.

Recognizing Bad Posture

Some common practices may have detrimental effects on your posture and spine. This includes sitting slouched at your workstation or while driving in a car, prolonged standing or looking down at a phone or tablet for too long.

Dean also says repeated lifting, twisting or bending, sleeping on your stomach and self-cracking your neck are a few other things that could negatively impact your posture.

Standing, Sitting and Moving Properly

The way you sit, stand and move all impact your posture. Dean says when you stand, you want to equally distribute your weight between both legs, feet pointing forward and shoulder width apart, unlock your knees, pull your navel in toward your spine and squeeze your buttocks together.

“You want to lengthen your spine in this position too,” says Dean. “Keep the back of your neck tall with shoulders back and breast bone up. I like to educate my patients to ‘suck and tuck, breast bone up’ to protect their spine in the standing position.”

Dean says it’s important to engage your abdominal muscles and gluteals during prolonged standing to protect your lower lumbar from sway back (hyperlordosis) and compression of the posterior structures. Dean utilizes Movement Re-Education with her spine patients to retrain their movement patterns. If the patient’s pain is eliminated and then they go back to their old movement patterns, the pain will likely return.

Additionally, Dean uses hip hinge techniques that strengthen the spine and replace the bending and twisting that cause structural damage to discs when repeated over time.

Practicing Better Posture at Work

Neutral spine positions can be found when sitting, standing and sleeping. When at your workstation, ergonomics (the study of people’s efficiency in the work environment) suggest sitting with your back against the lumbar support of your chair. Dean recommends adjustable chairs so you may customize them to your body size.

“Do not slide forward or sit on the edge of your chair,” says Dean. “Make sure your hips and knees are at 90 degrees and your feet are flat on the floor. Use the arm rests to support and decrease strain on your joints.”

Dean also says to make sure your computer monitor is at eye level and directly in front of you to avoid twisting or prolonged flexion or extension in your spine. In addition, it’s helpful to keep the items you use most close to you at your desk so you’re not repeatedly reaching and twisting at your workstation.

“I like to educate patients to sit tall and imagine a string pulling the back of their head and spine up into a lengthened position,” says Dean.

Texting, Bone Cracking and Other Bad Habits

Another really important issue comes from what Dean calls “Text Neck.” Many people look down at their phones and tablets for much of the day, which puts immense strain on the spine. In the neutral spine lengthened position, you have 10 to 12 pounds of pressure going through your spine. When you look down at your phone at 60 degrees of flexion, you have 60 pounds of pressure going through your spine.

Dean also discourages self-cracking of your cervical or lumbar spine. Though it can cause temporary relief early on, it could contribute to segmental instability, disc degeneration and more pain through micro tears and micro trauma.

“Spine protection is important to lessen the structural breakdown to the mechanical integrity of the discs that we all get as we age,” says Dean.

Poor posture can also contribute to detrimental spine health issues. In addition to spinal dysfunction and joint degeneration, some people experience pain that radiates into the extremities, numbness and tingling that extends to fingers and toes, a weakened core and even headaches.

Getting Started with a Physical Therapist

Good posture is one way to help prevent potential pain. The first step to improvement comes with being aware when you’re not in a good position. A physical therapist can develop an exercise plan to correct your muscle imbalance and get you into a balanced posture.

“ProMedica Total Rehab physical therapists utilize evidence-based stabilization exercises and manual therapy to improve posture, movement patterns, strength, flexibility and function,” says Dean.

Dean suggests not waiting until you experience severe symptoms to seek help. “A physical therapist can give you the tools to restore your posture and function and avoid long-term dysfunction, joint degeneration or even surgery.”

Though Dean knows these changes are a lot to consciously think about all the time, she encourages people to do their best to take care of their spine through posture correction.

“You only get one spine, so strengthen it and protect it with good posture, correct ergonomics and proper movement patterns,” says Dean. “There is no such thing as a spine replacement.”

Learn more about rehabilitation and physical therapy on ProMedica’s website.