Written by an IMI osteopath
Did you know there’s a proven link between your posture and mental health? An unnatural, stooped posture can cause chronic neck and lower back pain, which can lead to increased stress, sleeplessness, poor focus, social withdrawal and more. In fact, research indicates that around 30 to 50% of people with chronic pain struggle with depression or anxiety.
What causes bad posture? Often, it’s the way we work. Long working hours, sedentary lifestyles, and inappropriate workplace ergonomics can all take a toll on your normal neck curvature, which should be around 42 degrees, causing it to become unnaturally straight or even reversed. In the short term, you may experience headaches, neck pain and shoulder tension; in the long term, your neck will start to pinch your nerves and squeeze down on your discs, causing other problems for your joints and nerves. Once you end up with bone on bone, you may need to have surgery, which can further impact your physical and mental wellbeing.
How to correct the curve of your neck and protect your posture
When I treat a client for neck or lower back pain, I begin with a postural evaluation, an analysis of their focused history, and how it has evolved. Depending on their age and severity of symptoms, I might recommend an x-ray to look at the curve in the neck and spine. With this information, I can create a personalized postural rehabilitation plan. Through hands-on manipulation, I can free up the rotation and movement in the joints to decrease the pain.
But protecting your posture in the long-term needs more than a ‘one-time pop of adjustment’. It’s important to proactively take ownership of your posture, neck and spine health to correct the damage that has been done and protect against further issues arising. An appropriate exercise routine and a rehabilitative procedure can help to restore your neck curve back to its original form.
While the recommendations I give clients depends on their unique needs and challenges, here are some posture-friendly tips to help you begin to change the way you work for optimal body and mind:
- Move more. You may have heard the adage “sitting is the new smoking”. It’s because sitting for hours on end can trigger a wide range of health issues like lower back pain, headaches, musculoskeletal issues, weight gain and cardiovascular issues – all of which can impact your mental health. Research has found that regular movement breaks not only improves your posture, but your levels of energy at work too. Also, don’t leave exercise to the weekend. Many of the clients I treat are ‘weekend warriors.’ They work hard from Monday to Friday and exercise hard over the weekend, which puts them at a greater risk of injuries. A sudden surge of activity can put a strain on muscles and joints that haven’t been used all week, which can cause aches and pains and damage the spinal discs.
- Consider a standing desk. If you get back pain from sitting down, a standing desk could be worth considering. Standing desks are proven to increase work performance and lower anxiety. But don’t rush out just yet to get a standing desk. Standing for a prolonged period of time can cause increased pain and discomfort, which is why it’s important to be properly evaluated by a professional. Some issues, like improper leg length are important to rule out before getting a standing desk. Otherwise you could put more stress on your spine. In general, it would be ideal to have both a sitting desk and a standing desk.
- Reposition your monitor. In certain industries, a lot of people work with multiple monitors. It’s important that your main monitor is in front of you and not to the side of you. When your monitor is inappropriately positioned, you’re contracting more certain muscles while other muscles are lengthening. Maintaining balance on both sides will help to promote a biomechanically correct posture.
- Correct your laptop ergonomics to prevent ‘tech neck’. Laptops are one of the main culprits responsible for poor posture, particularly as most people use a laptop as their main computer throughout their working day. As the screen is typically positioned lower than head height, people position their head to see the screen. The attached keyboard can also force people into awkward positions that impact their posture. Over time, a hunched posture will cause overstrained muscles in the neck and shoulder area and alter the natural curves of the spine. One way to protect your posture is to use your laptop as a screen at eye level and buy a separate keyboard and wireless mouse. Another option is to use your laptop as a keyboard and link it to a separate monitor. By sitting upright, you’re not only improving your physical health, but your psychological health too. Scientists have found that those who sit upright have increased self-esteem, positive thoughts and overall mood.
- Sit in the 90-90-90 position. Anytime you’re at your desk, you should be seated in the “90-90-90 position.” Your elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle, your hips at a 90-degree angle, and your knees at a 90-degree angle too. Also, make sure your wrist is horizontal and flat to further improve your posture.