Posted by: charleenesfitness | September 17, 2010

Good Posture is key to health

 

Good posture is the foundation of good health

 

09:14 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 7, 2010

 

By DAPHNE HOWLAND / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Your mother used to tell you to sit up straight because she wanted you to make a good impression. Yet proper posture is more than good manners; it’s also good health.

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Improper posture takes a toll on muscles and joints in nearly all areas of the body. It can cause pain and limited range of motion in your neck, shoulders, back and hips, and lead to or exacerbate problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrists. Headaches, ear pain, jaw tension and shallow breathing can be related to poor posture, experts say.

The spine is like our body’s internal scaffolding; the very word backbone means strength and support to us. The spine’s success depends on ideal alignment, and that has nothing to do with being straight. It’s all about maintaining important curves: at your neck (cervical curve), upper back (thoracic) and lower back (lumbar). These curves are a feat of natural mechanical engineering because a curved structure is stronger and suppler than a straight one.

Poor posture leads to poorer posture because slumping and slouching overworks and underworks the spine’s supporting soft tissues, muscles and bones. Sitting long hours at a desk, for example, shoulders rounded forward day after day, overworks the flexor muscles in the front of the body, leaving extensor muscles in the back weak. The imbalance is reinforced and worsens.

Far from standing with a book on your head, the way to realign the spine is to actively balance out the stresses you put on it, by stretching overworked tissues and strengthening underworked ones.

“‘Normal posture,’ or the right posture for you, is the one that feels good,” says Dr. James D. Cable of the Texas Back Institute in Plano. Pain and discomfort in your neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, feet, even arms and wrists can be signs your spine is misaligned. You can prevent problems by taking on your daily activities mindful about your posture, about how you use your muscles and about how your environment affects your body’s position.

“The way we’re designed, our bodies take the impact of all kinds of activities,” says chiropractor Yaron Lohr, clinic director at the Posture Perfect Wellness Center in Dallas. “But everybody has bad posture because we’re all fighting gravity. We must combat what we do everyday to our spine.”

Here’s how to do that:

How to realign: “You need a daily regimen that fights the bad things you’ve done for eight hours,” Lohr says. “Ideally, you take 40 minutes for some total workout: 20 minutes doing stretches specific to your needs, and 20 minutes walking or something active.”

Neck rolls, overall stretching and yoga are effective, but Lohr recommends seeing a chiropractor who can adjust your body and assess your particular needs. At the gym, a personal trainer can design an overall workout.

Stretch and move: “The spine doesn’t like you to sit or stand all day long,” says Dr. Kevin Gill, orthopedic surgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and co-director of the UT Southwestern Spine Center.

During the day, take breaks every half hour or so to stretch and move. Use a kitchen timer, Cable suggests. If your job entails standing, get a low aerobic stool, about two inches high, and take turns resting a leg.

Carry this weight: You know to bend your knees when picking up a heavy box, but don’t discount the toll everyday lifting takes on your spine. Carry groceries in bags with handles and use carts. Carry loads of any kind close to your body, including babies and young children. “When they get too big for you, don’t carry ’em,” Gill says.

Unload that weight: Good diet and exercise deliver nutrients and oxygen to the bones and muscles, says Dr. Herschel L. Brown at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “And obesity hurts the joints, the muscles, the back,” Brown says. “Get out and exercise for 35 or 40 minutes three to five times a week, and you’ll have fewer problems.”

Adjust your environment: Today’s ergonomic desks and chairs accommodate the spine’s curvature, Gill says. Take advantage of the moving parts in chairs and computers that allow you to look straight at the screen without craning your neck, and to sit with your legs at 90 degrees to the floor with your feet comfortably on the ground or a footrest. “Comfort is the guide,” he advises. “On the phone, there’s no excuse anymore. Use your headset and your earpiece.”

Sleep comfortably: Waking up stiff is galling because your body was supposedly resting. Overused and underused muscles can’t relax, Lohr says. Make sure your mattress isn’t too soft or too hard, and use a pillow between your legs. “For most adults, laying flat on your back or stomach interferes with the natural curvature of your spine,” Gill says. “Bottom line: If it’s bothering your back or neck, quit doing it or make adjustments.”

Daphne Howland is a freelance writer in Portland, Maine

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