Posture Police

By Margo Graf

My mother hated “slouchers”. Anytime one of her kids sat limp in our seat, especially at the dinner table, she jabbed a sharp thumb into our side. We would instantly sit upright and whine to our torturous mother. This method worked on one sibling, whose fear drove her to eternal straightness. However, for the other two children, and most people who work in front of a computer, our neck and shoulders have been reduced to a slump.

Call it computer neck, writer’s neck, laziness, whatever you like. It used to only affect older people who had spent decades staring down at their typewriters. Nowadays it is much more common for people of any age to have a sore back and neck from using computers, phones, tablets, video games, you name it. The accessibility and attention we have for these devices is literally changing our bodies.

With the ever-increasing smart devices, you can expect neck and back problems to continue to skyrocket. The average head weighs around ten pounds. When tilted forward, the head causes neck muscles to work extra hard–as if your head weighed 30 pounds. Repeatedly doing this motion will cause neck and shoulders to get stuck at an angle that will create stiffness, tightness, and soreness.

First of all, let’s break down posture. Posture is a dynamic pattern of reflexes, habits, and adaptive responses to anything that resists you being more or less upright and functional. Changing your posture is not as simple as putting your shoulders back and chest out. We have to be considerate of the way we sit, stand, walk, exercise, and sleep to fully change our habits.

However, committing to this change will relieve tension all throughout your body. You should become a tiny bit taller and may even gain some confidence from the way you carry yourself. Balancing out the body can also fix scoliosis or curves in the back. Keep in mind it will take months to reduce a prolonged writer’s neck back into position, but it is worth the relief in the long run.

What You Can Do

– Adjust your workstation. Raise your computer to eye-level. If you use a laptop, get a Bluetooth keyboard and keep it at elbow level. Use cushions or a ball chair to guide you in sitting straight.

– Take breaks from work. Walk, stretch, drink water. These activities will relieve tension in the neck. Shake out your hands and wrists, and gently rotate your neck from side to side. Do not force the mobility, but repeat these stretches daily. Also, give yourself a little neck massage. Break up any knots and stiffness that you can feel in your muscles.

– Exercise. Building the muscles in your shoulders and back will train your body to naturally sit with good posture (muscle memory kicks in too). This will take pressure off of your neck and balance your body. Strengthening your core is also important to finding the right posture. See a physical therapist for exactly which exercises and stretches you need.

– Sleep. Do you sleep with a big pillow? If so, it may be pushing your chin towards your chest, which does further damage. You may need to remove the pillow completely, or use a much thinner one. Try your best to sleep on your back with pillows under your knees so that your spine lays flat on the mattress. You do not want an arch in your low back while lying down.

It is not going to be an easy adjustment. It is not going to be comfortable or fun either. But the benefits will pay off. After a few months of building muscle, sticking to your new habits, and changing your work and sleep position, your body will naturally come to terms with its correct alignment. You can always have a friend check your posture, or jab your side when you slouch. (Take motivation when it comes!)

Sit up straight, walk tall, sleep better, feel less soreness… why not give it a try?

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