How is your posture? If you sit at a desk all day, probably not as good as you think. If your back or neck feels tight or sore by day’s end, your posture could definitely use a tune-up. Most people aren’t aware they have poor posture. They also may not realize some of the stiffness in their neck and back at the end of the day is from prolonged sitting and sitting the wrong way in a chair.
Having bad posture doesn’t look pretty either. When your body isn’t aligned properly or you have an anterior pelvic tilt, your tummy looks more prominent and gives the illusion of having more tummy fat than you actually do. Here are three of the most common posture problems people with office jobs are at risk for.
Posture Problems: Rounded Shoulders
Rounded shoulders come from leaning too far forward at your desk. It’s easy to slump when typing on a keyboard without even knowing it. Rounded shoulders can cause back pain and even restrict your breathing by limiting the expansion of your rib cage. When you slump forward in your chair, your chest muscles tighten and your upper back muscles, especially your trapezius muscles, lengthen. As a result, you have to recruit smaller muscles to help maintain your posture. This creates an imbalance that can lead to neck and back problems.
To remedy this common problem, strengthen your trapezius muscles and stretch the pectoral muscles in your chest to loosen them up. To stretch your chest at work, do a doorway stretch. Place your palms on either side of the frame of an open door at about shoulder height. Then lean your chest forward into the door until you feel the stretch. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Do this several times a day.
When you weight train, make sure you’re working your posterior deltoid muscles as much as your anterior ones. If you overdevelop your anterior deltoid muscles without balancing your training with posterior deltoid development, it’ll make you look hunched over.
Posture Problems: Hunchback
A hunched back is where you have an abnormal curvature of your upper back and your head extends too far forward. This condition is also known as postural kyphosis. If someone were to take a photo of you from the side, you’d notice your upper back protrudes more than it should. Hunchback is commonly seen with rounded shoulders. Like rounded shoulders, this postural problem is common in people who work at a computer most of the day and lean forward to type. As a result of hunching, the muscles and ligaments in the upper back stretch and become weaker.
Hunchback places excessive pressure on your spine and is a risk factor for neck and upper back pain. Some people develop kyphosis during childhood from carrying a heavy book bag and it persists into adulthood. Performing too many upper body “pushing” exercises like push-ups and shoulder presses without balancing them with “pulling” exercises creates a muscle imbalance that can lead to hunchback.
As with rounded shoulders, you can correct postural kyphosis by stretching your chest muscles to lengthen them and by strengthening the muscles in your upper back. Self-myofascial release techniques are also effective for postural kyphosis.
Myofascial release uses pressure to relax areas of muscle tension. You can do this yourself using a foam roller. Place the foam roller underneath the tight areas and move the roller up and down the muscle, holding pressure on tight areas for 20 seconds at a time. It may take several sessions to experience improvement.
Posture Problems: Anterior Pelvic Tilt
With anterior pelvic tilt, your hips thrust forward more than they should. This forward thrust pushes your tummy forward and makes it look more prominent and shifts your buttocks backwards causing them to jut out. Anterior pelvic tilt also creates an abnormal arch in your lower back. Anterior pelvic tilt is linked with tight hip flexors and weak gluteal muscles. As a result of this tightness and weakness, your hamstring muscles have to work harder than they should.
How can you tell if you have an abnormal pelvic tilt? Stand against a wall with your shoulders and buttocks touching it. Slide your heels about two inches away from the wall. Then slide your hand between your lower back and the wall. If you have a normal degree of pelvic tilt, your hand should fit snuggly into the gap. If there’s a space or your hand feels loose, your pelvis is tilted forward more than it should be.
To correct anterior pelvic tilt, do basic hip flexor and quad stretches to lengthen your quads and iliopsoas muscle, the most powerful hip flexor. Static lunges are a good exercise for doing this. Work on strengthening your gluteal muscles with exercises like glute bridges and chair squats. If you work at a desk, prolonged sitting tightens hip flexors and worsens anterior pelvic tilt. Take a break to walk around and stretch your hip flexors at least every hour.
The Bottom Line
Poor posture creates muscle and ligament imbalances that put you at risk for neck and shoulder pain as well as other problems like headaches. Make sure your computer work station is ergonomically friendly and your body is positioned properly in the chair. Take breaks throughout the day to stretch your chest muscles and hip flexors and take short walk breaks as often as possible.
Make sure your workouts are balanced. Don’t work your abs without also training your back or do too many “push” exercises without exercises that involve pulling. When one muscle group is weak, another muscle group has to compensate, creating a muscle imbalance that worsens postural problems.
Core exercises are also important for improving posture. The good news is strengthening the muscles in your core, back and shoulders in a balanced manner helps to prevent problems. Yoga is another form of exercise that helps with posture by creating greater body awareness and by strengthening core muscles and should be part of a balanced fitness program.
IDEA Health and Fitness Association. “Thoracic Kyphosis: Solutions For Clients
Poloquin Group. “Foam Rolling 101”
National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Posture Exercises”
Related Articles By Cathe: