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4 Ways to Turn Good Posture Into Less Back Pain

Most of us get back pain at some point in our lives. It may be due to a sports-related injury, an accident, or a congenital condition such as scoliosis. But most of the time, upper or lower back pain develops during the course of day-to-day life. Repetitive activities at work or home, such as sitting at a computer or lifting and carrying, may produce tension and muscle tightness that result in a backache.

Fortunately, there is much we can do to prevent this sort of problem. General physical fitness and a healthy weight are important. But one surprisingly simple strategy can go a long way: Paying attention to your posture.

The Basics of Posture

Posture is the way you hold your body while standing, sitting, or performing tasks like lifting, bending, pulling, or reaching. If your posture is good, the bones of the spine — the vertebrae — are correctly aligned.

4 Steps Toward Good Posture

You can improve your posture — and head off back pain — by practicing some imagery and a few easy exercises.

Imagery

Think of a straight line passing through your body from ceiling to floor (your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be even and line up vertically). Now imagine that a strong cord attached to your breastbone is pulling your chest and rib cage upward, making you taller. Try to hold your pelvis level — don’t allow the lower back to sway. Think of stretching your head toward the ceiling, increasing the space between your rib cage and pelvis. Picture yourself as a ballerina or ice skater rather than a soldier at attention.

Shoulder blade squeeze. Sit up straight in a chair with your hands resting on your thighs. Keep your shoulders down and your chin level. Slowly draw your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count of five; relax. Repeat three or four times.

Upper-body stretch. Stand facing a corner with your arms raised, hands flat against the walls, elbows at shoulder height. Place one foot ahead of the other. Bending your forward knee, exhale as you lean your body toward the corner. Keep your back straight and your chest and head up. You should feel a nice stretch across your chest. Hold this position for 20–30 seconds. Relax.

Arm-across-chest stretch. Raise your right arm to shoulder level in front of you and bend the arm at the elbow, keeping the forearm parallel to the floor. Grasp the right elbow with your left hand and gently pull it across your chest so that you feel a stretch in the upper arm and shoulder on the right side. Hold for 20 seconds; relax both arms. Repeat to the other side. Repeat three times on each side.

Practice these imagery and posture exercises throughout the day. You might try to find a good trigger to help you remember, such as doing one or more of them when you get up from your desk, or right before scheduled breaks and lunch. Soon it will become a habit.

Back in 2002, I suffered disc herniation while working in the airline business. For many years now, I have been continuing physical therapy exercises that I learned after the industrial injury. What helps me the most is a daily 30 minute walk. I have not missed a walk in many years.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Samuel King

    While neck pain sometimes results from trauma—such as an injury from playing sports or whiplash from a car accident—by far the most common cause is stress on muscles and ligaments stemming from poor postural habits, typically related to our computerized, stressful, sedentary lifestyle. One of the most widespread postural problems is forward head posture, a misaligned relationship between the head and the shoulder girdle, where the head protrudes in front of the shoulders and the upper back rounds. This causes the muscles of the neck, shoulders, upper back, and chest to alter their length and efficiency as they struggle to counterbalance the weight of the heavy head against the pull of gravity—with the muscles in the neck and front body becoming tight and short and those in the mid back and the back of the shoulders becoming weak and overstretched.

    • Thanks for sharing your wisdom Samuel. I know the Chiropractor helps me every time I go for an adjustment. I also make it a point of going to daily 30 minutes walks to help offset my sedentary hours of working online!

  • Lynette Branch

    To get the feeling of the correct posture, imagine that you are being held up by a string, like a puppet, from the top most vertebrae of your spine. This is the vertebrae that your skull rests on and is located between your ears, and behind your nose, in the center of your lower skull. To find it, just nod “YES” for a second or two. Your skull is sliding back and forth over the top vertebrae.

    Now imagine that there is a helium filled air bubble right on top of that vertebrae. It rises upwards so that both the front and the back of your neck are equally relaxed by being pulled up. This helium bubble is so powerful that your head keeps pulling up even higher, and your neck is stretched gently, shoulders staying down, allowing your whole spine to follow in the upward movement, to gracefully fall in line under your head.

    The back is pliable and pulled up to its strongest position, and your torso is lifted up out of your hips. Your hips stay down in order to give support to your upper body. Your knees are loose in their sockets, not locked tight. For maximum breathing freedom, feel as if you’ve stretched the sides of your rib cage so that you’re long and tall between hips and shoulders. Then the ribs will move easily as you breath and play.

    • Hello Lynette,

      Thanks for sharing your experience about how good posture can be experienced. A friend of mine Colleen is a yoga instructor. Every morning she would show me yoga poses that I could do that would help me stand up with good posture and help relieve some of my low back pain!

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