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Are You a “Slouch Potato?” How Your Posture May Contribute to Your Neck and Back Pain

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Bones & Joints related image Photo: Getty Images

The other day as my husband walked by my home office while I was slaving away on the computer, he jokingly commanded to me, “Sit up straighter!” Wow! What did I look like, the hunchback of Notre Dame? I know many of us spend countless hours at the computer each day, and if we were surrounded by mirrors, I am sure we would all be quite shocked as to the poor posture we employ as we crazily type away. I suppose that technology has gone from creating a generation of “couch potatoes” to a generation of “slouch potatoes,” as I like to say. You can be classified as a “slouch potato” if you are among the thousands who hunch over your computer keyboard several hours a day, and if you make an attempt to straighten up your back, it may even feel a bit tense or awkward at first. It is this very habit that may be contributing to that nagging pain in your neck or back. (I know…sometimes that nagging pain in your neck symbolically represents a person, but that I am not a therapist here. You will have to go to the mental health section for that one!)

Neck and back pain are typically associated with those people who engage in athletic pursuits or who work in physically demanding jobs. (What? Surfing the web is not physically demanding? Says who?) The truth is, the way you sit or stand has a great impact on your body. If you hold an improper posture while sitting, lying down, walking, or even just standing up, this can place undue strain on your neck and back muscles, as well as on the nerves surrounding them. As this strain builds up over time, you will begin to notice a variety of aches and pains in your back and neck. (Actually, as I am writing this, I have a dull lower back ache, muscular in nature, and as soon as I assumed a more upright posture, it dissipated. The trick is holding this posture without feeling like a statue! Why does maintaining this posture that is supposed to be natural feel so unnatural?)

So, how do you know of your daily habits of posture are affecting your various aches and pains? Let’s take a peek at head posture, for starters. Forward head posture is when your head begins to drift and lean forward. This is probably the posture you have right now, as you sit in front of your computer. You may also recognize it when reading a book, driving, or even watching TV or movies. When you are in this position, the muscles in the back of your neck are strained. (Probably the reason why, when one of my three sons walks into my office, I playfully beg, “Rub my neck for a minute! I’ll give you a dollar!”) The key is to eliminate this position as much as possible. Read with a book propped up against a frame. Take periodic breaks from your computer or when driving.

Although slouching seems very comfortable to us – take one look at my three teenage boys on the couch, and you won’t argue with me – it can actually lead to more pain if you continue to do this over time. Slouching causes unnecessary strain on the back nerves and muscles, which contribute to that pain in your back about which you may be complaining. When sitting or standing, try to maintain a straight back, and when sitting, try to lean your back parallel to the chair.

I have recently become a new student of yoga and was pleased to learn that there are a variety of yoga poses that can help with back and neck pain and train me to maintain better posture in my daily activities. I was also excited to hear that if I can hold certain yoga positions for 20 minutes a day, I can potentially increase my life span by 10 years. Wow! I need to tell my 105-year-old grandma about that one! I can just see her now in the warrior pose, legs spread apart in a sideways stance, arms stretched out to either side, a cane in one hand and a cool drink in the other!

My suggestion to you is this: for at least a few minutes each hour, focus on how you are sitting at your desk and strive to sit up straight in your chair. It may feel awkward initially, but the more you do this, the more natural it will seem, and your work productivity may increase as you no longer have to deal with those annoying aches and pains. As for those other pains-in-the-neck in your life, there’s not much I can do about them. I know what my grandma might say, but I cannot print those words in this forum!

(Information for this article was found at http://backandneckpainresources.com)

Add a Comment5 Comments

I'd love to get one! I think Dwight on "The Office" used one once, until Jim popped it with a pair of scissors. I have heard those are great for those core muscles. Wonder if I could sit on one for hours at my desk while working on the computer?

October 26, 2010 - 10:43am
(reply to Ann Butenas)

I think it's difficult at first, but you can always work your way up to more time. I can only do short spurts at a time. There are also actual office chairs that use these balls. I haven't tried them, yet, but it is on my "to-do" list. Please do watch out for sharp objects! They can really burst your bubble!

October 26, 2010 - 12:04pm

A good way to strengthen core muscles and to improve posture is to use those large yoga/exercise balls (I forgot the name for them) instead of a chair.

October 26, 2010 - 10:09am

This is absolutely true. I can't emphasize how much better I feel when I use proper posture while sitting and standing.

This article jokingly mentions mental health too, but I want to point out that there are also fairly strong mind-body connections, and posture and mood are certainly connected. I find that it is easier to have self-confident thoughts and feeling when I'm in a relaxed, upright posture, whereas it's easier for me to have doubting and negative thoughts and feelings when I'm in a slouched posture.

Good posture has numerous benefits for the mind and body; I can't emphasize this enough!

October 20, 2010 - 12:39pm
(reply to cazort)

Oh, I totally agree...I am all for the mind-body connection. I constantly use the power of my mind over ailments in my body. I just throw in the humor to make my grandma irritated with me...but she loves it!

October 20, 2010 - 5:16pm
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