How can I check my back posture?

One of the areas that I often get asked about is about posture. People want to know if they have bad posture and if so if this is contributing to back pain. As a yoga teacher I do see many different posture issues so I’ll set out some of the most common below, starting from the top!

Forward Head Posture – this is becoming increasingly common sadly as more people from a very young age spend long periods of time looking down at small screens on phones and tablets. It results in the head being forward of the shoulders and the shoulders becoming increasingly hunched. During lockdown I’ve also heard this called ‘laptop syndrome’ as more people work from home at the kitchen table with a laptop screen far too low, also resulting in the same issues.

For every inch (2.5 centimetres) forward, the head gains 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) in weight as shown in the above photo. This causes:

- Overloading of the thoracic (mid and upper back) and cervical (neck area) vertebrae and muscles

- Up to triple the load on the transitional section of the thoracic and cervical section of the spine (between C7 and T1)

- Overload on the ligaments around the neck

- Changes in spinal curves, disc compression, arthritis, nerve impingement, headaches, breathing problems, dizziness and even cardiovascular problems.

The sooner that forward head posture issues can be corrected the better for your overall health and well being. Bring awareness to if you're spending long periods of time like this. Try not to spend time looking down at devices for long periods and ensure any computer screens are at a height where you can look directly ahead. If you have spent periods looking down, spend some time afterwards with some gentle head movements turning the head from one side to the other, tilting the ear down towards the shoulder and back up and also taking the hands onto the shoulders and circling the shoulders back.

Mid to lower back slump – as well as this above problems, many people spend long periods of time

sitting, often with the lower- and mid-back areas rounded. This causes loss of the natural spinal curve in the lower part of the back, as well a backward tilt into the pelvis. Long periods of sitting like this will begin to cause lack of tone and strength the muscles that

support the spine as well as tightness and shortening in many of these muscles. Even worse, it can cause the discs between the vertebrae to thin and dehydrate. The physiotherapist Sarah Key recommends a chair that has a back that slopes back by a few degrees beyond the vertical (so not completely upright) to allow the natural curves of the spine to be supported. It’s important the seat isn’t too deep and that when you are sitting you prevent your lower back from slumping into a ‘C’shape. Chairs should be adjustable such that you can adjust the height so your feet are flat on the floor and knees are just below hip level (but not too far – you do not want to over-exaggerate the lumbar arch).

When standing you can think of the optimum positioning for your body to ensure forces from above and below can be evenly distributed. You can try standing with your back against a wall and see where the rest of your body is against the wall and whether standing upright is a challenge. The vertical gravitational plumbline (i.e. allowing the best distribution of the upright body to ensure equilibrium and balance) sees the ear above the shoulder, shoulder above hip, hip above knee and knee above ankle. For many people the issues of forward head posture and rounding of the shoulders make this alignment a challenge.

Some movements that you could try include standing with your back to the wall and inhaling as you

extend both arms up overhead (seeing if it is possible for the hands to come to the wall – this may take many months of practice) and exhale the arms back down. Repeat 5-10 times daily or after every long period of sitting. Another option can be to take the arms out into a goal post or cactus shape and take the backs of the hands to the wall. Inhale as you open the arms out and exhale as you bring the arms back to the centre. Repeat 5-10 times daily.

Also taking up a regular yoga or qi gong practice could be very beneficial as many of the postures will work to improve your spinal alignment, posture and overall range of mobility for your whole spine and shoulders.

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