Discs can also suffer from poor posture. When the spine is in
proper alignment, the cushioning, shock absorbing discs that
are in between the vertebrae are not overly stressed and not
as subject to injury.
Lower back pain is the most common
back pain caused by poor posture, as the lower back supports
most of the weight of the body. However, poor posture can also
cause upper back pain, especially in those who slouch. Neck
pain is also common.
Strong Muscles for Proper Posture:
Muscles support the spine. A weakness in any of the muscles
that support the spine makes it difficult to maintain proper
posture. Poor posture is a common cause of back pain due to muscle
strain, especially lower back pain.
The back muscles, ligaments & discs
are under extra stress when the spine is not in proper alignment.
Strong muscles help keep the spine in proper alignment and prevent
back pain. Strong muscles also prevent the spine from extending
beyond its normal range of motion, which is essential to protecting
the ligaments and disks from injury.
Flexible Muscles for Proper Posture:
Tight, shortened muscles in the back or buttocks can
throw the spine out of alignment and cause back pain. Stretching
the back muscles is important for good posture, but other
muscles, such as shortened hamstrings (muscles in back of thigh),
can also affect spinal alignment.
What is Good Posture?
Many people remember being told 'Stand up straight' or 'Don't
slouch' when they were children. Like 'eat your vegetables',
this is still good advice.
The spine, however, is not actually straight.
The healthy spine curves inward at the neck, outward at the
chest, and inward at the lower back. These two curves balance
each other to ensure that the pull of gravity is evenly distributed.
If the curves of the spine are increased or decreased the muscles,
ligament and joints have to work harder to support the weight
of the head and body. This leads to fatigue, strain and back pain.
When standing, the center of the head, the shoulders, center
of the body, knees and feet should line up vertically.
COMMON POSTURE ERRORS:
Common posture errors of the lower back that cause lower
Swayback - an increase
in the natural inward curve of the lower back.
Flattened back -
a decrease in the natural inward curve of the lower back.
Common posture error of the upper back that cause upper
or hunched shoulders - an increase
in the natural outward curve of the upper back.
Common posture error that causes neck
Head Forward - ears in front of the shoulders,
caused by a bent over position or hunching the shoulders.
The Lower Back Posture Errors:
The positioning of the pelvis controls
the curve of the lower back. The pelvis should be in a
neutral position. If the pelvis tilts forward, sway back results
(the natural inward curve of the lower back is increased). If the
pelvis tilts backward, flattened back results (a decrease in the
natural inward curve of the lower back). Control of the pelvis
is key in keeping the lower spine in proper alignment and preventing
lower back pain.
Like the spine, the pelvis is supported by muscles of the back,
and abdomen and buttocks and strengthening these muscles helps
maintain good posture and prevent back pain.
SWAY BACK - A Common Posture Error of the Lower Back:
When the pelvis tilts forward the lower back
arches excessively - sway back. Sway back
places extra stress on the ligaments of the spine and leads to
back pain. Sway back is more common in a standing position
than in a sitting position. Wearing high heels also causes the
pelvis to tilt forward and contributes to sway back.
Shortened muscles can also cause swayback. Stretching these
muscles and maintaining the pelvis and spine in a neutral position
can restore good posture and relieve back pain. Not only can
shortened back muscles cause sway back and back pain, but shortened
hamstrings (muscles at back of thighs) can contribute to sway
back and back pain.
Test for sway back: There should be a slight
inward curve to the lower back. To see if your back curves
excessively (sway back), stand with your back against a wall,
place your feet about 6 inches from the wall. Make sure you
head and buttocks are against the wall. If your posture in
correct, you will have no more than two inches between the
small of your back and the wall. If it is over than this, you
have sway back.
*If you have more than 2 inches between the wall and your neck,
the muscles in the back of the neck and back need stretching.
Don't be impatient. Lengthening the muscles through stretching
exercises must be done gradually to avoid overstretching injuries.
Overstretching muscles in the neck and back can result in intense
neck and back pain and stiffness.
Sleeping on your stomach shortens
the muscles in your back and encourages sway back. Sleeping
on your side with the knees bent helps counteract a sway back
and can relieve back pain.
The pelvic tilt exercise (see back exercises) is especially
good for a sway back and can relieve lower back pain. The 'cat'
is also beneficial. See
Back Exercises page.
FLATTENED BACK - A Common Posture Error of the Lower
should be a slight forward curve to the lower back. Flat back
is more likely to be a problem when sitting than when standing.
If the pelvis is tilted too far backward, the lower back loses
its natural curve, muscles and ligaments are stretched, causing
lower back pain.
Upper Back Posture Error:
ROUNDED SHOULDERS is a Posture Error of the Upper
your shoulders are rounded you need to stretch the chest muscles
and strengthen your upper back muscles. Rounded shoulders are
usually the result of slouching. When slouching, the natural forward
curve of the neck is also exaggerated, which can result in neck
pain as well as upper back pain. It is more common to slouch
when sitting. Slouching is often caused by fatigue, especially
when sitting in front of a computer.
Slouching also compresses your diaphragm, when leads to shallow
breathing. Proper posture allows proper breathing and sufficient
oxygen intake. Getting enough oxygen helps to relax muscles and
prevents stress from building up in the muscles, especially the
muscles of the neck and back. Tense muscles area common cause
back pain and neck pain.
Other Posture Error:
HEAD FORWARD- A Common Posture Error:
The back of ears should be in
line with shoulders, chin parallel to floor. Being in a
bent over position or slouching causes the head to be too far
When standing or sitting in
an upright position the weight of your head (about 15 pounds)
is supported by your entire spine, which acts as a pillar
for your head.
Poor posture habits such as leaning forward puts the burden
of supporting the head on the muscles in the neck. This causes
muscle strain and pain in the neck and can even cause headaches.
Once the neck muscles are strained, leaning your
head over for even very short periods of times can cause neck
pain. Proper posture allows strained neck and back muscles to
heal more quickly.
The head is heavy and the muscles of the neck take the
entire load when your head is forward, creating neck pain.
PROPER POSTURE WHILE SITTING:
Many people spend much of their workday sitting. Proper posture
while sitting is vital for preventing back pain.
Even when maintaining good posture, sitting for prolonged periods
of times can tire the back muscles. Take frequent
sitting; take a short walk every half hour to hour, as the human
body was not designed to stay in one position for long periods
Also, the discs are under more pressure when sitting
than while standing. Having a chair that
reclines slightly shifts you weight onto the backrest of the chair; this allows
your back muscles to relax, and takes some of the pressure off
of the discs.
Adjustable Chairs With Good Back Support
Prevent Agonizing Back Pain.
The pelvis should be in a neutral position. Certain chairs cause
the pelvis to tilt backward, decreasing the curve of the lower
back (flattened back), which places extra stress on the lower
back and causes back pain. If you don't have access to a chair
with a good back support, place a small pillow in the small of
the back to correct the curve.
Some people try too hard to sit up straight and actually end
up tilting their pelvis forward and arching their back. This
increase in the curve of the lower back (sway back) also
strains the lower back and causes back pain.
When sitting in a chair, the feet should
be supported. If the seat
is too high for the feet to reach the floor, use a platform to rest
your feet on. The knees should be level with or slightly higher
than the hips.
Besides lower back pain, neck pain is common when good
posture is not maintained while sitting. Make sure
your computer monitor isn't too high of low. You shouldn't
have to tilt your head up or lean forward to see the screen.
We often extend our neck
to look at a computer screen, sometimes because it is too far
away, sometimes out of habit. Looking upward or looking downward
or sideways (which is common practice when viewing a document
upon a desk) puts excessive strain on the neck and upper back
and causes neck and back pain.
The arms should hang at your sides. If your computer keyboard
is too high or too far away the arms have to be kept raised or
extended, resulting in tense shoulder and upper back muscles
and back pain.
The top of the computer screen should be
just below eye level. When reading, place the material on an angle; don't place the reading
material flat on a desk or your lap. Leaning your head over for
prolonged periods of time is brutal on your neck muscles.
PROPER POSTURE WHILE LYING DOWN:
Lying on side with knees bent - pillow between knees
Sleeping on your stomach increases the curve of the lower back,
leads to shortening of the muscles in your lower back and encourages
sway back. Sleeping on your side with the knees bent helps counteract
a sway back and relieves back pain.
If you absolutely must sleep on your stomach, place a pillow
under your hips to help support the lower back. However, sleeping
on the stomach also can strain the neck and is not advisable.
Lying on back with knees bent - pillow under knees for
Lying on the back with straight legs can cause low back pain.
Proper support for the back while lying down is vital in preventing
back pain. Back pain not only can result from a saggy mattress,
but hours of watching TV while tying on a saggy couch.
Mattresses and Back Pain
A good mattress will conform to the spine's natural
curves and keep the spine in proper alignment.
When lying on a saggy mattress, the spine is thrown out of alignment.
For people suffering from lower back pain, a saggy mattress that
causes the lower back to sink into the mattress and can irritate
the spinal joints, resulting in more lower back pain upon awakening.
It the mattress is too firm there will be gaps between the inward
curves of the body and the mattress that leave parts of the back
unsupported, stressing the back and causing and back pain.
The solution is to get a relatively firm mattress with enough cushioning
for comfort. (There must be enough cushioning to distribute the
weight of the body and eliminate pressure points) If you already
own a bed that is overly firm, you can just get a good quality foam
topper for your bed.
Whether Standing, Sitting or Lying -
Change Positions Frequently for Back Pain Prevention
and Back Pain Relief. Holding any position for too
long can also tire out the back muscles and cause back strain and
back pain. Holding a position in which the spine is out of alignment
makes the back even more vulnerable to back pain. Changing positions
frequently will avoid using the same muscle group for too long.
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