A common condition responsible for pain in the upper back and neck is poor posture. Prolonged poor posture will result in imbalances in the muscles of the upper back and neck leading to tightening of some muscles and weakening of other muscles.
Over time these imbalances will result in the potential development of pain in the upper back and neck, headaches, and put stress on the discs and joints of the spine.
Here are some ways of determining if you have bad posture and some tips on how to improve your posture and avoid pain in the upper back and neck.
Does Your Posture Need Help?
Catherine New, writing for PsychologyToday.com, shares some insight in determing if you have bad posture and some suggestions on how to be more aware of your posture.
Good posture is in a slump. Our days at work and school are filled with non-ergonomic tasks and habits—staring at computers, lugging heavy shoulder bags, and cradling the phone in the crick of our necks. Now our backs are paying the price. According to a Duke University study, back pain is costing the country $90 billion a year.
Beyond back pain, bad posture can aggravate other problems like joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. “Bad alignment predisposes you to joint and muscle stress, which may lead to back pain and arthritis,” says Shirley Sahrmann, professor of physical therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Here’s how it works—or doesn’t work: Sitting at a badly arranged workspace, for example, tilts the torso forward, placing extra tension on the spine and causing it to curve. Your muscles then adjust to this newfound position. From there, chest muscles shorten and abdominal muscles weaken, while back muscles stretch and overextend. Also, this posture can compress and contribute to the breakdown of cartilage between your vertebrae. Over time, this can contribute to osteoarthritis. In short, “our bodies weren’t designed to sit all day,” says Tammy Bohne, a chiropractor in New York City.
To combat this rampant slouching, straightening one’s back should be simple enough. But according to John Christman, standing straight is not enough. You must build, stretch, and retrain your muscles to counteract slouching. Christman, who has a Ph.D. in biophysiology, has developed an exercise program that strengthens and stretches muscles for better body alignment. “Posture is not about the vertebrae being knocked out of alignment. It’s about muscle strength and you have to do the work.”
Christman and Bohne offer a few tips for the slouch in all of us. First, find out if your posture is at risk by asking these questions:
Is Posture The Key To Back Pain Prevention?
New York Times author, Lesley Alderman, thinks so. But is her assessment right?
“Posture is the key,” said Mary Ann Wilmarth, chief of physical therapy at Harvard University Health Services. “If your spine is not balanced, you will inevitably have problems in your back, your neck, your shoulders and even your joints.”
THE D.I.Y. APPROACH First, try correcting your slouching habits on your own. Stand up and lift your chin slightly; align your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. Place your hands on your hips and pitch forward about two inches.
A CUBICLE CURE If you sit at a desk all day, ask your human resources department if they have an ergonomics expert on staff (some large companies do) who can assess your work area. An ergonomist can make sure your chair, desk and keyboard are at the optimal height and can adjust your sitting posture.
AN EXERCISE PLAN Habits are hard to break. A physical therapist can show you how to align your spine and provide you with exercises to both strengthen your core and loosen up stiff neck, back, arm and leg muscles (tight hamstrings can contribute to back pain).
A CLASS IN POISE If you want a more systematic, long-term approach to posture change, consider the Alexander technique, a method that teaches you how recognize and release habitual tension that interferes with good posture.
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The New York Times article, although good in overall scope, failed to mention that best evidence and systematic reviews related to the prevention of back pain have found support for exercise in general but not for postural instruction. In other words, most of the views about the importance of posture are speculation rather than proven fact.
Would you like more information on how to improve posture and avoid pain in the upper back and neck? We have put together exercises that will help improve your posture. The exercises are free and if you would like access to exercises, just leave a comment below describing your condition and we’ll get those out to you right away.
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