Not Just Your Back: How poor posture is hurting your productivity and confidence

Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietitian, naturopath, doctor, or another type of healthcare professional. This is simply the product of my own research and opinions, not to be used to replace the recommendations of a registered healthcare provider.


More than nine months have passed since the World Health Organization has declared Covid-19 a pandemic. We have been finding ourselves working under unusual circumstances, where we are sitting at a desk, couch, or chair more than usual. The many effects that Covid-19 (specifically working from home) has placed upon us include longer workdays, longer work hours, increased muscular strains, and a worsening posture.


Posture is defined as the biomechanical interaction between gravity and an organism [1]. A normal spine will have an “S”-like curvature, where there is a forward curve at the neck, a backward curve at the upper back, and an inward curve at the lower back. But remember: a healthy spine alignment does not necessarily mean healthy posture.



A healthy posture would be able to keep the bones and joints correctly positioned, which in turn allows our postural muscles to be appropriately used. A healthy posture decreases the strain placed on the ligaments of the spine, prevents abnormal fixed spine positions, and prevents headache and fatigue [2,6].


Poor posture is associated with numerous negative effects:

1. Our normal ‘S’ shaped spine is structurally shaped to support the body and absorb shock. Constantly sitting in a slouched position will put an excessive amount of pressure on the vertebrae; which can slowly diminish our spine's natural ability for shock absorption. The chronic strain placed on the spinal curvature can cause conditions such as kyphosis, lordosis, or even hernias.



2. Back pain is another obvious effect of poor posture which occurs due to the strain placed on the upper and lower back. Slouching puts excess pressure on the shoulder blade which can further flatten the muscles surrounding it [2].


3. Neck paints and headaches occur because when the head is not positioned in the body’s center of gravity and the shoulders are protracted (rounded). The strain that’s placed on the neck will cause tightness in the muscles, which leads to headaches [4].


4. The tension that’s placed on the muscles also affects sleep quality, due to the muscles' inability to relax! [4]


5. Disrupted digestion is also a sign of poor posture because your organs are being compressed [7].


6. Lack of motivation is a surprising yet scientifically proven consequence of poor posture where work ethic is interrupted due to the inability to feel comfortable at a desk [7].


7. Lastly, low self-esteem has been correlated with poor posture. In a study conducted on a group of men, after holding a good posture for 20 minutes, the men experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone). This study was able to conclude that acquired good posture, contributes to an increase in energy, and performance and work are done more efficiently [7].


Assessing your posture

In order to know how to have good posture, we need to be able to assess it. This is how you determine your postural quality:

- Have someone take a side view picture of your body

- Draw a line from your ear lobe to the side of your ankle

- Remember to stand in a neutral position, with your palms to the side.

- The gravity line should pass:

(1) Through the ear lobe

(2) Through the shoulder joint

(3) Midway between the front and back of the chest and abdomen

(4) Through the greater trochanter (top of the thigh bone)

(5) Just anterior to the midline of the knee (knee joint from the outer side)

(6) Just anterior to the lateral malleolus (outer ankle)

Working from home: what to do and what not to do

I believe that being mindful of your posture is one of the most neglected aspects of improving it. Training yourself to become constantly aware of how you are standing, and sitting is the most challenging aspect of your improvement. After mindfulness, comes the structural basics that must be followed when sitting [7]:

- Sit up with your back straight, your shoulders back, buttocks to the chair

- Distribute your body weight evenly on both sides of the body

- Knees at 90˚, feet parallel with the floor

- ***Switch positions every 30 minutes


Additionally, when you are sitting in a chair, avoid twisting at the waist and instead turn that whole side of the body. When standing, use the weight of your legs to pick you up, then bend your back backward [3]. Additionally, when sitting up it is important to maintain a neutral head position. To prevent the weight of your head from pulling you down, you should always try to make sure that your eyes are at level with the top of your screen [4]. The reason for this is to prevent your head from tilting downwards to help avoid neck and shoulder aches.



To fix your posture when standing [5]:

- Place your weight on the balls of your feet

- Always keep the knees slightly bent

- Stand tall with shoulder pulled back and core tight

- Make sure that your head is in line with the shoulders (maintain a neutral position)


When lying down [5]:

- If you are a side sleeper, sleep with a pillow in between your thighs to prevent the hip joint from being misaligned and to keep the spine neutral

- If you sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees to support the stress placed on your spine and to maintain the natural curvature

- Avoid sleeping on your stomach because it places strain on your lower back!


Finally, the most challenging part of all of this is to strengthen the muscles associated with posture control! Gravity is constantly pulling us down and if you have poor posture, it means that those muscles are not strong enough to maintain you upright. There are several muscle groups that are directly and indirectly involved which include the hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, back extensors, and more. Aside from exercising which we all know we should be doing, daily stretching plays a factor in increasing muscle flexibility, range of motion, and decreases muscle tightness.

Good posture shouldn’t just be for the workplace, it should be for everywhere and most importantly for yourself!



References:


[1] Bergmann, T. F., & Peterson, D. H. (2011). Chiropractic technique: Principles and procedures. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier/Mosby.

[2] Chiba, R., Takakusaki, K., Ota, J., Yozu, A., & Haga, N. (2016). Human upright posture

control models based on multisensory inputs; in fast and slow dynamics. Neuroscience Research, 104, 96–104.


[3] Chiu, L. Z. (2009). Sitting back in the squat. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 31(6), 25-27.


[4] Foerster, F., & Fahrenberg, J. (2000). Motion pattern and posture: correctly assessed by

calibrated accelerometers. Behavior research methods, instruments, & computers, 32(3), 450-457.


[5] Fujisawa, N., Masuda, T., Inaoka, H. et al. Human standing posture control system

depending on adopted strategies. Med. Biol. Eng. Comput. 43, 107–114 (2005).

[6] Ivanenko, Y., & Gurfinkel, V. S. (2018). Human postural control. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12(MAR), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00171

[7] Robertson, H. C., & Lee, V. L. (1990). Effects of back care lessons on sitting and lifting by

primary students. Australian Journal of Physiothe