Dr. Dolan's Guide to Good Posture

Do you have good posture?  How can you tell if you do or you don't?

Perhaps you'd better start by taking Staten Island Chiropractor Dr. Victor Dolan's Good Posture Pop Quiz.

Staten Island Chiropractor Dr. Victor Dolan's Good Posture Pop Quiz

Dr. Victor Dolan
Step One.  Freeze in the position you are in right now.  No cheating.  Don't change the position in which you are sitting.  

Step Two.  Now let's examine your warts-and-all real-world posture.  

Answer yes or no to the following questions:

  *  Are your elbows higher than your desk top?  

  *  Is one shoulder higher than the other?

  *  Are you slouching in your chair? 

  *  Are your legs crossed? 

  *  Is your chin jutting forward?  

  *  Are you sitting on the edge of your chair?

If you said yes to even one of the above, then my friend, you'd had better read on further.  We may be able to help you avoid a future of neck pain and back pain, if you don't already suffer from those ills.

Why is Good Posture so important?

Because you want to avoid a lifetime of neck pain and back pain.  There are amazing life-changing benefits associated with the consistent application of good posture.  

Only if your spine is properly aligned with its natural curvature from the ears to the shoulders to the hips, knees and down to the ankles and feet, is your entire body in balance.  

We suffer from stress-related pain and dysfunction related to bad posture.  With poor posture--standing or sitting or walking--our body fails to optimize circulation of blood, breathing, functioning of our musculature, functioning of all your major organs.  Even the brain begins to malfunction, degrading your mental clarity.  

Simply put, poor posture stresses the spine and pinches the nerves which run through your spine.  These pinched nerves result in ever decreasing and ultimately failing functionality of your muscles and organs, your circulatory system and your nervous system.

Achieving Good Posture Yields Amazing Benefits

Improved Breathing.  Improved breathing and flow of oxygen to the brain increases your ability to think.  With good posture your brain literally gets more oxygen so you will think more clearly and feel less tension and stress.  Good posture helps you breathe easier and feel lighter and more alive. 

Improved Appearance.  Folks with good posture are always regarded as more attractive and appealing, radiating self-confidence and the flow of good physical health.  You will feel good about yourself as you stand tall.  The way your hold your body has a direct relationship to how you feel. 

Eliminate Health Challenges.  Improper posture can over time result in numerous health problems, including but not limited to increased risks of slipped disc, back aches, back pain, neck pain, knee and joint pain, headache, poor circulation, poor placement and formation of internal organs.  Good Posture gives your diaphragm and rib cage more room to expand as you breathe. 

How did you wind up with Bad Posture?

Well don't blame yourself.  Modern life and gravity as we age tend to slowly shift us out of the natural alignment with which we were born.  With all of our modern electronic conveniences and our indoor desk-bound jobs, most of us spend way too much time sitting down. As spend hour after hour pretzel-shaped in our desk chairs slouched in front of a monitor, we accumulate great tension and stress in our spines, and they don't always snap back into proper position when we stand up.  How you carry yourself now has now become a matter of ingrained habit.  After years of poor posture you will need to make a conscious effort to readjust how your spine as it runs along your neck and back.  Attaining Good Posture can prove a challenge.

You may ask yourself how did my back get in such bad shape?  

As you can see, you put a lot of effort into achieveing a bad back, and you didn't even know it.  But don't worry too much.  The very fact that you are reading this information right now shows you are on the right path to Good Posture and Pain Relief.  With a deeper understanding of how your spine works with the rest of your body functions, you will be able to correct your health challeges and finally find relief from your neck and back pain.

So let's read on and see how you can get Good Posture.

What exactly is Good Posture?

Posture is how you hold your body when sitting, lying down, walking or standing.  Good Posture does not mean keeping your spine totally straight as many folks seem to believe.

Good Posture is actually about maintaing the natural concave curves of your spine, of which there are two:

o   from base of your head to your shoulders

o   from your upper back to the base of your spine

You will know when in the right posture as it will feel almost effortless to maintain the position.  When you stand, the weight of your body is evenly distributed across the balls of feet and not the heels or toes.  If a straight line can pass through your ear to your shoulder to your hip to your knee and finally to your ankle, then you've got it right.

How do you get Good Posture?

Simply put, the attainment of Good Posture is about developing awareness of how you 

Stand | Sit | Walk | Sleep

How to Stand

Let's begin with how to stand so that you maintain Good Posture:

Focus on your core.  This is your abdominal area or your six-pack.  This is your center of gravity, and all your body's movements should eminate from your center.  

Open your chest.  Shoulder should be slightly back and curving slightly downward at your sides.

Imagine the String.  Note the concept and the straight line passing through your body mentioned above.  To avoid slumping imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling it up toward to the ceiling.

Flex your knees.  Always keep your knees relaxed, when waiting in line at the checkout or even when brushing your teeth.

Ground both your feet.  When standing, have both feet planted flat on the ground.  Don't shift all your weight onto a single foot--which is a common practice among the poor posture folks.  

Good Posture Tip:  Watch other people’s posture. You will become more conscious of your own.

How to Walk

When walking, a lot of Good Posture is about wearing the Right Shoes.

Proper footwear promotes Good Posture.  You may feel that your high heels make you look fashionable--they are guaranteed to ruin your posture, no exceptions.  Going from high to low, heel-wise, flats such as ballet slippers or flip flops are no good also because the do not have the proper support that your feet require.  The best shoes have a heel no higher than one inch, a good arch support and a wide wide toe box so that your toes are not squished.

Good Posture Tip:  Avoid carrying heavy items such as laptops, books and purses on a regular basis.  Carrying heavy stuff is bad for our shoulders and back.  Extended periods of carrying heavy things at work or at home leads to hunched shoulders and backs and aching neck and spines. If you are a student, you may be carrying loads of heavy books or a laptop every school day.  The same may be true for professionals, who carry laptops and other work materials back and forth while commuting every work day.  Heavy loads throw your spine--and the muscles that attempt to keep your spine balanced--out of whack.  And eventually, you will slip into back pain and neck pain and then into the serious illnesses which result from pinched nerves in your spine. 

How to Sit

Good Posture is also about Sitting Properly and finding a Good Chair.

In fact, sitting probably where we exhibit our worst postural failures.  We often transform ourselves into some crazy pretzel-shapes when at our desks, on the sofa watching TV or reading a good book in an easy chair.

Bad posture is particularly evident when sitting down.

Typical bad posture snapshot:  shoulders and neck hunched forward with legs crossed.

And because you are so accustomed to sitting in this position, it probably feels more comfortable than sitting up straight.  However, in the long run, you are putting tremendous strain and tension on your neck and back. 

To promote good posture while sitting:

o   Sit up straight with your shoulders back
o   Your back should rest against the back of the chair
o   Keep your feet flat on the ground
o   Keep knees bent at a 90-degree angle and in line with the hips 
o   Your desk should be level with your elbows
o   Don't cross your legs
o   Your shoulders should be relaxed and open
o   Your abdominal muscles should be firm but not too tight
o   Your monitor should be eye level so you don’t have to bend your neck

Easy Relaxation Tips While at Your Desk:

Let go of your mouse and remove your hands from your keyboard every half hour.  This releases the tension in your wrists, arms, shoulders and neck. 

Look away from the computer screen every 15 minutes.  Focusing your eyes on a monitor for hours at a time tenses up your entire body (not to mention blurring your vision).

Breathe deeply.  Open your up lower rib cage and lift up your torso from your hips.

If are getting your sitting posture correct, your weight will be evenly distributed in the chair between your hips, thighs and low back.  Remember as you try to re-train your body into a new sitting posture habit that is more dynamic than just slouching into a chair, it may feel more tiring initially.  This is because you are using your back muscles in a new way. At the same time, however, you will be rewarded with a lighter feeling and easier breathing.  The whole interior of your body will feel like it has opened up because previously you were literally smashing your internal organs together while slouching and sitting at a low angle.

What about your Chair and Good Posture?

o   Adjust your chair height so your hips are slightly higher than your knees. 

o   Place your posterior all the way to the rear of your chair.  This will set your spine in the correct position to generate Good Posture.  Many folks have poor posture because they place their rear end on the front edge of their chair. It may be exciting to sit on the edge of your seat, but this causes you to slouch in a forward position and hunch over because you have forgone the support to your spine that the back of the chair was designed to give you.

o   Get a back cushion.  Make sure your back is wedging the cushion against the chair. Whenever you lean forward, the cushion will fall down, which will act as a reminder to shift back into your proper posture.

o   You need to get a good quality adjustable chair.  Many have found balance chair to be helpful.  Usually, balance chairs are designed to keep your muscles in action, never allowing you to relax and slouch.  Balance chairs engage your core muscles thus activating your spine into a Good Posture position.

Good Posture Tip:  Never work under a dim light at your desk because it always results in a slouched posture.

How to Sleep

The position in which you sleep every night will have a major impact your posture and the ultimate health of your neck and back.  In fact, if your sleeping posture is poor, you will be guaranteed poor overall posture and a future of neck and back pain.

So what are some tips for maintaining Good Posture while in bed?

o   Sleep only on your back or side.  

o   When sleeping on your side, bend your knees slightly rather than drawing them up towards your chest. 

o   For the 10% of Americans who sleep in their stomach--stop doing that!

o   Invest in a quality mattress.  Get a mattress that is firm and not too soft. The soft mattresses where you sink into may feel nice on first contact, but not after eight hours when you get up in the morning.  Soft is not good for your back or posture. 

o   Invest in a quality pillow.  Consider investing in an orthopedic pillow. There are quite a few designs available and the most common is the Contour Pillow which is arched to give extra support to your head.  There is also the horse shoe shape pillow which gives extra support to the neck.

o   Place a pillow under your knees when sleeping on your back, or in between your knees when sleeping on your side. 

o   Avoid overly-fluffy pillows that move your head out of alignment with the rest of your body.

Good Posture Tip:  Never watching TV or reading while lying down.  Such a habit promotes poor posture habits for both the spine and neck.

Exercise for Good Posture

You need to engage in exercises which strengthen the muscles along your neck and back which control how you carry your spine.  Some good practices which will help guarantee long-term back health include pilates and yoga.  I also find the introduction of the exercise ball into your exercise routine to be very beneficial.  

Getting a professional massage can be very helpful also.  

However, perhaps most effective and the exercise which yields the quickest result is Simple Stretching. 

Four Simple Stretching Exercises Which Will Help You Achieve Good Posture

I have designed these easy stretching exercises to help you improve the alignment of your spine.  These exercises work by making you more aware of your posture.  

If you do them every day, these Stretching Exercises will help you achieve good posture and eliminate neck and back pain. 

Exercise One:  The Neck Stretch

Slowly glide your head backwards without tilting it about an inch until you feel mild tension.

Exercise Two:  The Chest Stretch

Extend your arms out to your sides at shoulder height, then bend your arms at your elbows with palms pointing upward. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Exercise Three:  Back Stretch

Place your hands behind your head and gently pull your elbows backward. Then gently press your head against your hands.

Exercise Four:  The Shoulder Stretch

Put your arms out to the sides with your hands up and pull your shoulders together in the back. Now make small circles with your arms.

When do you need a Health-care Professional?

If you are suffering from any of the many ills that Poor Posture yields, the most effective action you can take may be going to a health-care professional who can evaluate your condition, identify your symptoms and design a program to safely and quickly get rid of your neck and back pain.

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Filed by Tom Brandon
Staten Island, NY