Athletes get sports injuries. Writers experience the consequences of poor posture.
Iím hunched over my laptop right now making things worse.
Iíve spent my adult life working at a computer, and specifically the last eight years working from a laptop as a freelance/roving reporter. In addition to this lifestyle, Iím also a human living in 2019, which means Iím spending hours of my free time staring down at a smartphone.
These choices result in genuine medical issues, or thatís what doctors have been saying for years anyway. Now at age 35, Iím experiencing those real consequences.
If you were to meet me in person, you might notice the shape of my upper back. My shoulders roll forward and I look like Iím in a permanent state of slouch. Itís not exactly a Quasimodo situation over here, but it definitely isnít an ideal frame.
While some of this likely relates to genetics, my choices in life have contributed to having some truly horrible posture issues, to the point where simply ďstanding up straightĒ is uncomfortable.
Itís gotten worse over time. Rotational flexibility in my neck has continued to deteriorate, and my posture adds constant strain on my spine and the muscles in my neck and upper back. This has led to more frequent bouts of tension headaches, where the neck and back tightness causes pain in my forehead and behind the eyes. Then I forget to wear my eyeglasses, hunch over a screen most of the day, making the entire situation worse.
Then I developed new symptoms - exercise and activity induced lightheadedness, increased brain fog and occasional dizziness.
Doctor visits, blood work and chiropractor sessions confirmed it: My posture sucks.
Now Iíve been prescribed physical therapy. The place where people with ďrealĒ physical injuries go to reestablish their mobility and flexibility after trauma. I honestly felt embarrassed. How could something as trivial as bending my neck incorrectly result in physical therapy? How could I let my inactivity and poor habits cause so much disruption to my life?
After talking with my physical therapist at the first session, I realized I wasnít the only person out there making poor posture decisions. Itís happening to a lot of people, and there are simple things you can do to make sure it doesnít happen to you.
A peek at poor posture PT
While Iím going to discuss a few of the exercises Iíve been doing, donít consider my regime as a guide to solving any of your potential symptoms. Physical therapy is extremely individualized and specific to the patient, and my exercises have been based on an examination by my doctor and professional physical therapists. Stay tuned to the next section on everyday tips for better overall posture, and consult your physician before doing anything that messes with your muscles and spine.
For the most part, my PT exercises are designed to a. Strengthen my upper back, b. Increase flexibility in my neck and c. Create a better ďrestingĒ posture.
Some of these exercises are incredibly simple, from pretending to make snow angels while lying vertically on a foam roll, to unilateral chin tucks while lying my head on two tennis balls taped together. I even do an exercise where I simply sit up straight in a chair and pretend to balance a sheet of paper on the top of my head.
A couple of my exercises are a little more complicated to explain, as they target a very specific muscle or muscle group. These activities boast names like ďSupine suboccipital release (a top neck stretch),Ē and ďStanding isometric cervical retractionĒ (rolling my head on a beach ball against the wall). Itís all pretty straightforward but sometimes tiring when I string them all together twice a day.
Hereís the thing: Iím seeing positive results. My headaches have been less frequent, as have those lightheaded spells during activity. The key with any physical therapy is to do the work in between the weekly sessions (where the therapists do much more complicated work on the muscles I wonít pretend to understand). Skipping the exercises, or doing the exercises incorrectly, only hinders permanent change.
Simple tips for better posture
ďStand up straight!Ē My Grandma Rosemary told me this 25 years ago and it still applies today. Part of better posture is developing an awareness of poor posture habits. Itís a matter of adding a little reminder into your everyday thought process. When Iím working on a computer or sitting in a car, I try to catch myself hunching and immediately correct my position. I still hunch all the time, but Iíve at least added a personal alarm that tells me to stand up straight, roll my shoulders back and realign my chin.
Elevate your laptop. Most of us place a laptop in our laps, duh, meaning your head is generally bent down and the back of the neck is stretching to look straight at the screen. While thereís nothing wrong with this particular movement, holding that position for an extended period of time can lead to upper back and neck pain. Elevating the laptop, either with one of those ďas seen on TVĒ stands or by utilizing books and other items around the house, can create a more natural eye line. Or sit at a desk with your chair aligned so youíre looking straight onto the screen, or better yet, stand at a countertop or table and utilize books or boxes or whatever you have to align your eyes with the screen.
Hold your phone up, or stay off it. I know itís not just me hunched over my cell phone playing ďToy Story Drop.Ē I see all of you with your heads buried into your smart device. If you must look at it, use those arm muscles and lift that phone up to match your eye line without bending your neck down. If your arms are as out of shape as mine, your arm will eventually get tired. At that point, just put the phone down and enjoy the real world for a bit.
Devices that can help
The UPRIGHT posture corrector device is a little electronic pod you stick at the center of your upper back. It sends a signal to an app on your smartphone where it can show you an image of your posture. You can also set the device to give you a small vibration reminder to reset your position. www.UprightPose.com
The Bodystance Backpod is an oval-shaped, transverse-curved device made of polycarbonate and covered with a rubber outer cushion. You lay your upper back on this thing to strengthen your back muscles, stretch tight rib cage joints and loosen that hunched posture. I use this thing every day, and Iíve noticed a visual improvement on my hunch. Itís not the most comfortable thing at first, but my back and neck often feel much looser after spending just a minute or two on the Backpod each day. Consult with your doctor before trying this, as even the manufacturer warns about using it incorrectly. www.Bodystance.co.nz/en/Backpod/