Tag Archives: ergonomics

Tips For Improving Posture

Posture is the position that you hold your body upright against gravity while, sitting, standing or lying down.

Poor posture may result from poor habits that come from things we do every day – activities such as standing for long periods of time, sitting at a computer, driving, and even sleeping.  Poor posture can easily become second nature, causing or aggravating back or neck pain which can lead to damaging spinal structures. The good news is that when it is brought to our awareness, we are able to change and better manage the situations causing the poor posture.

The following guidelines suggest several ways to improve posture and ergonomics especially for people who work sitting in an office chair for most of the day.

  • Be aware of the warning signs caused by poor ergonomics and posture. Back pain may be the result of poor ergonomics and posture if the back pain is worse at certain times of day or week (such as after a long day of sitting in an office chair in front of a computer, but not during the weekends); pain that starts in the neck and moves downwards into the upper back, lower back and extremities; pain that goes away after switching positions while sitting or standing; sudden back pain that is experienced with a new job, a new office chair, or a new car; and/or back pain that comes and goes for months.
  • Get up and move. As muscles get tired, slouching, slumping, and other poor postures become more likely; this in turn puts extra pressure on the neck and back. In order to maintain a relaxed yet supported posture, change positions frequently. One way is to take a break from sitting in an office chair every half hour for two minutes in order to stretch, stand, or walk.
  • Keep the body in alignment while sitting in an office chair and while standing. Try to distribute your body weight evenly to the front, back, and sides of the feet while standing. While sitting in an office chair, use the chair’s features. Sit up straight and align the ears, shoulders, and hips in one vertical line. Even a good position for too long will be tiring. Swap from leaning forward with a straight back and alternate with sitting back against  the support of the office chair to ease the work of the back muscles. Also be aware of and avoid unbalanced postures such as crossing legs unevenly while sitting, leaning to one side, hunching the shoulders forward or tilting the head.
  • Use posture-friendly props and ergonomic office chairs when sitting. Ergonomic supportive “props” can help to take the strain and load off of the spine.  Office chairs that are ergonomically designed or chairs with an adjustable back support can be used at work. Footrests, portable lumbar back supports, or even a towel or small pillow can be used while sitting in an office chair and while driving. Using handbags or backpacks that are designed to minimize back strain can also influence good posture.  Positioning computer screens to your natural eye level position can also help to avoid leaning or straining the neck with the head tilted forward.  Excessive use of a laptop can be hazardous, so a laptop raiser could be beneficial.
  • Increase awareness of posture and ergonomics in everyday settings. This includes making conscious thoughts and connections to your posture not only at work, but at home and during social activities.
  • Use exercise to help prevent injury and promote good posture. Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, or bicycling will help the body stay aerobically conditioned, while specific strengthening exercises will help the muscles surrounding the back to stay strong. These benefits of exercise promote good posture, which will, in turn, further help to condition muscles and prevent injury. There are also specific exercises that will help maintain good posture.  Core strength is essential to develop and maintain to help support the upper body and maintain good posture.
  • Wear supportive footwear when standing. Avoid regularly wearing high-heeled shoes, which can affect the body’s center of gravity and change the alignment of the entire body, negatively affecting the spine and posture. When standing for long periods of time, placing a rubber mat on the floor can improve comfort.
  • Remember good posture and ergonomics when in motion. Walking, lifting heavy materials, holding a telephone, and typing are all moving activities that require attention to ergonomics and posture. It is important to maintain good posture even while moving to avoid injury. Back injuries are especially common while twisting and/or lifting and often occur because of awkward movement and control of the upper body weight alone.
  • Create ergonomic physical environments and workspaces, such as for sitting in an office chair at a computer. It does require a small investment of time to personalize the workspace, home, and car, but the payoff will be well worth it. Undue strain will be placed on the structures of the spine unless the office chair, desk, keyboard, and computer screen, etc. are correctly positioned.
  • Avoid overprotecting posture. Remember that it is important to maintain an overall relaxed posture and therefore avoid restricting movements like clenching muscles and adopting an unnatural, stiff posture. For individuals who already have some back pain, it is a natural tendency to try to limit movements to avoid the potential pain associated with movement. However, unless there is a fracture or other serious problem, the structures in the spine are designed for movement and any limitation in motion over a long period of time creates more pain and a downward cycle of less motion and more pain, etc.

Improving Posture

We live in a society where either posture is not taught, or it is taught in such a way that kids come to resent it, meaning they have a parent or grandparent that is always telling them “don’t slouch” or “stand up straight!” Typically when this happens, a person’s first reaction is to thrust their shoulders back and stick their lower back out which in turn creates even more of a problem. Holding your shoulders rigidly back, and putting too much curve in your lower spine can cause just as many problems as slumping with shoulders rolled forward. Even though this is what is often thought of as appropriate posture, it actually is not.

Whatever the reasons for bad posture, whether it be poorly designed desks when we are in school, bosses who don’t have ergonomic chairs for those who sit at a computer all day, or just our own misunderstanding of what good posture is, bad posture has become a real problem for all of society.

Bad posture can be caused by a number of reasons such as, sitting for too long, standing for too long, being depressed or anxious, using poorly designed furniture, and stress. However, whatever a person’s reason for poor posture, anyone can change their posture at any time with just a little effort. Keep in mind it is not necessary to expend large amounts of effort on good posture. Remember that holding shoulders rigidly back, and having excessive curve in the lower back is not good posture, but simply another form of bad posture.

Bad posture may cause back problems, and exacerbate existing health problems even if the existing health problems such as a seasonal cold aren’t severe or permanent. So, what can you do to improve your poor posture?

The first thing you want to do when it comes to improving your posture is to become aware and understand what good posture really is. Good posture is when your spine is straight but with a slight curve in the lower spine, and your shoulders are rolled back just a bit (but not rigidly so) so that it is as if your shoulder blades could slide down your back. Your chin should be level with the ground, not drooping as if it were going to tuck into your chest.

The best way to get an idea of this is to stand up straight, but not too rigid. Imagine there is a metal string hanging from a hook in your ceiling that is attached to the top of your head. Pretend that this string can pull up just enough to align all the bones in your skeleton just right so that your head, neck and shoulders are aligned with your spine and on down to your feet. This is what it is like to have good posture. You can perform the same test when sitting, just make sure you have a chair that allows your feet to rest flat on the ground. If you are a woman wearing heels, they automatically throw your spine out of alignment by tipping your pelvis unnaturally forward.

Some other things you can do to improve your posture are using an ergonomic chair (with lumbar support) at your desk, and/or lower your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor while you are sitting at your desk. A footrest may help too. Another is not to sit for long periods of time without getting up and walking around a bit, even if it is just to walk around your desk or cubicle space. You should also take time to stretch, or better yet begin practicing Office Yoga which are yoga postures you can do at your desk. Taking classes such as yoga or tai chi or Pilates that emphasize good posture can help as well.

When you find yourself slumping or sliding back into your old posture habits don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead simply be gentle and kind with yourself and begin to practice good posture again. In time good posture will become a habit. Remind yourself with sticky notes at your computer or around the house wherever you spend the most time. When it does you will notice that you feel a lot better. You may even find that you can handle stress better as well. These are only a few of the benefits of good posture, there are many others such as less or no back pain. Improving your posture will improve the quality of your life.