A healthy back is one that allows the spine to stack naturally, without strain on the lower or upper back. But countless factors affect our spine and cause damage and pain over time. Very few people are perfectly symmetrical, and some unfortunately struggle with unavoidable spinal health issues. A lifetime spent carrying, walking under load, and overworking physically can further compromise and damage our bodies. Yet for a growing number of Americans, poor spinal health is not only a matter of genes or injury, but a matter of posture, obesity, and sedentary living.
A good posture can do a lot to reduce existing pain and eliminate the potential for more suffering, but it does not come easily for many. Forcing yourself into a rigid or unnatural position may seem like the path toward lasting good posture, but this is not true. Good posture does not come from forcing the body into holding a position of discomfort for hours. Furthermore, many struggle to grasp the difference between good and poor posture. It often isn’t enough to stand up straight or protrude the chest.
Posture correction can be a useful tool for preventing the impact of back pain, but it is important not to use it as a substitute for more invasive and often necessary interventions. A good posture implies good spinal health, but you cannot always fix your spine by trying to force good posture.
What Constitutes as Good Posture?
Good posture should be painless and should place a minimum of stress on the joints and tendons in the body. The spine has a natural curve and should be in line with both the neck and the hips, allowing for an even distribution of weight throughout the body. An exaggerated curve in any part of the back places undue stress on that area, causing increased wear and tear, as well as other pain associated with the imbalance.
These issues occur for various reasons. While spinal issues are not the norm, they are quite common, but are rarely (if ever) caused by poor posture. Most serious aberrations in spinal curvature are often hereditary. However, spinal health problems caused by exaggerated spinal curvature can be exacerbated by posture problems and lessened by exercise and physical therapy. Meanwhile, more minor changes in spinal curvature, as well as overall spinal health issues, can certainly be caused by poor posture habits and weakened musculature.
But good posture requires a compromise between an efficient and healthy distribution of force throughout the body, and long-term commitment. Discipline at the table is not enough to produce a healthy posture, and if standing perfectly straight is painful or overwhelmingly challenging, you are not going to fix your problems through sheer posture correction. The body must be strengthened and trained to hold itself upright. Exercise and physical therapy are the key to better posture in most cases, and in turn, help reduce the effects of existing or developing spinal health issues. When spinal health issues become too severe for physical therapy, other interventions must be considered, including braces or surgical intervention.
Tips to Maintain Good Posture
Even a strong and healthy body is susceptible to slouching habits and poor posture. One element in every home that tends to greatly exacerbate posture problems is the chair. Consider eliminating chairs at home and opt for Asian or Arabic-style floor seating. From there, finding the right way to stay seated on the ground while maintaining a healthy back posture without feeling uncomfortable is a matter of practice and personal preference. Some individuals prefer to sit cross-legged, while others struggle to remain upright in a cross-legged position and prefer to kneel. Side-sitting, squatting, or long-sitting are equally viable options, although some flexibility and a cushioned floor may be required.
Regardless of whether you sit in a chair or on the floor, remaining seated for too long is a bad idea. Be sure to always have something to regularly bring yourself out of a seated position. While working, consider opting for a standing desk or take frequent breaks. Standing desks are often better options for individuals that cannot afford to take breaks during their work shift. At home, reminding yourself to get up and stretch every half hour or so can drastically reduce the short-term and long-term effects of sitting for too long. When watching a movie, remind yourself to take a pee break, or just get up for a glass of water.
Sitting is not the only culprit behind poor posture. Other habits include prolonged periods of reading and web-browsing, as well as poor sleeping habits. Craning your neck to look at your phone, struggling to maintain a straight back at work causing your shoulders to round and upper back to contort, or falling asleep on your side without knee support can negatively affect your neck, spine, and hip alignment, causing posture-related pain over time.
It Gets Easier (If Done Right)
A wide variety of posture issues can be rectified through regular physical exercise. Muscular imbalances often contribute to rounded shoulders and pelvic tilts, with tight hip flexors and weak abdominal musculature. Core exercises, back exercises, chest exercises, leg exercises, and basic flexibility drills can help address these issues and reduce the possibility of any pain in the future.
Back pain related to weight issues require more than just a physical approach, as weight loss is heavily dependent on a long-term dietary change. However, it often takes a significant amount of body weight to begin impacting spinal health. The human spine is quite strong. Many cases of lower back pain associated with obesity may as well be linked to a sedentary lifestyle or other spinal issues rather than excess weight – such as a pre-existing asymmetry being made more problematic.
Nevertheless, strengthening the muscles in the body and correcting certain imbalances can drastically improve a person’s everyday posture, helping them quit slouching both at the desk and while walking by strengthening the muscles that keep the spine and neck in place. It’s important not to forget how the body works – for every movement, there are agonist and antagonist forces, pushing and pulling with ideally equal force. When one part of the body is significantly stronger than another part of the body to compensate for weakness, long-term issues begin to arise.
Time to See a Doctor
Not everything can be fixed with learning good posture and going to the gym occasionally. Spinal issues can be very serious, and often unrelated to lifestyle choices. While healthier lifestyles can minimize your spinal problems and even allow you to live relatively pain-free in many cases, there are times when a doctor’s intervention and/or the help of a pain specialist is necessary. If you’re experiencing back pain, always pay a visit to your doctor before picking up any strenuous strength training routine and be sure to have a professional take a good look at your spine.