Updated: Aug 25, 2020
By: Dr. Erin Mackin, PT, DPT, RYT
Have you ever thought to yourself or self proclaimed the words “I wish I had better posture” or “I know my posture is less than ideal?” If you haven’t noticed, from the waist on up, the majority of our body mass including our internal organs and fatty tissues are located towards the front of our body. Also, throughout our day we are consistently engaged in activities that are in front of our body as well. Examples of these activities include lifting/carrying objects, playing a piano, typing on a computer, writing a paper, reading a book, or participating in a board game. The list is endless. Due to the activities we participate in daily and the natural weight distribution of our bodies, gravity has a tendency to pull us forward. Overtime, our posture can worsen.
Not only does having good posture make you appear more confident and look younger, it also prevents, reverses, or slows down the progression of many orthopedic conditions including but not limited to shoulder impingement syndrome, biceps tendonitis, cervical arthritis, cervical disc degeneration, and migraines related to muscle imbalances around the neck. In fact, a majority of patients seen in outpatient physical therapy come to therapy with a condition that may have been prevented had they focused on maintaining proper posture throughout their lives.
At first, it can feel tiring to sit/stand up straight throughout the day when our bodies are not used this act. That is because many muscles that are responsible for endurance and postural alignment become weak and require strengthening to better sustain optimal posture throughout the day. Not only do certain muscles get weak, but other muscles may have tightened as your posture has declined making it difficult to sit/stand up straight against these shortened muscles.
The good news is that by improving awareness of your posture throughout the day and participating in practices to mitigate poor posture, you can improve your posture over time. Below I have listed 10 healthy habits and tips that you can adopt to better improve your posture, decrease any maladaptive posture related pain, feel younger, healthier, and more confident.
1. Stand Against A Wall
a. Find times within your day to check in with your posture to see how your Alignment is against a wall. Find a wall around your home and place your back against the wall with your feet a few inches in front of the wall. Keeping your arms straight place your hands and forearms against the wall and your squeeze your shoulder blades back. The backs of your shoulders should touch the wall as well. However, depending on your posture, it may be difficult to achieve right away. Just try your best to bring the backs of your shoulders towards the wall. Again, do NOT shrug your shoulders up. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed away from your ears. Keep your neck aligned, center, and stacked directly over your shoulders in line with your spine. Incorporate a gentle chin tuck with your chin placed ever so slightly down closer to your neck. Hold the position while squeezing your shoulder blades together and providing a gentle pressure with your hands/forearms into the wall for 5 seconds. Repeat 15 times. Work towards increasing your hold time, repetitions, and frequency throughout the day.
2. Pretend Like a String is Attached Through the Crown of your Head a. While you are walking, sitting, or standing throughout the day, it is helpful to pretend like there is an imaginary string attached through your spine exiting through the top center crown of your head. If it is helpful, you can pretend like you are a puppet and there is a giant in the sky holding the string. When the imaginary giant tugs on the string pulling straight up into a vertical direction, your body will lengthen and straighten into a more optimal posture becoming the tallest version of yourself. Another cue to try this same concept is to imagine a full glass of water placed directly on the top of your head. While you sit, stand, or walk around, prevent the imaginary glass of water from spilling at all costs by keeping your head straight and spine lengthened from top to bottom.
3. Perform Scap Squeezes a. “Scap Squeezes” are the name for an exercise that involves bringing your shoulder blades closer together by activating your middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles. This exercise can be used to strengthen these muscles and improve your overall posture. It can be performed anywhere at any time. No equipment is required. To perform this exercise, keep your chest up, and shoulders back and down away from your ears while you draw your shoulder blades closer together. You should feel the muscles working between your shoulder blades in the center of your back. Hold this muscle contraction for 5 seconds and repeat 15 times. Increase your hold time, repetitions, and frequency performed throughout the day as able.
4. Set a Reminder via an Alarm or Buzzer a. A good way to be consistent with training your posture is to be aware of it more often. One way to do this is by setting a reminder in the form of a buzzer or alarm. When the buzzer or alarm goes off, it will remind you to check in with your posture and adjust your positioning accordingly. If you have a smartphone device you can utilize the alarm clocks programmed within the phone to set alarms. Or, you can download apps such as “Posture Check” or “UpRight Go” to set reminders. There are other apps that you can download that may work better for you. You can type “posture reminder” in the app store search box to see the available options and determine which app works for you. Also, for those of you who have Apple watches, there are ways to set reminders in the form of buzzers on your watch as well. If able, you may start with a program that reminds you to adjust your posture every hour. Once your brain adapts to this new habit, the frequency of reminders can decrease.
5. Try Changing your Pillow or Utilizing One Pillow Instead of Two a. There are many pillows on the market today that work towards improving your level of comfort and postural alignment. Though many different brands may be beneficial, one tip to keep in mind when choosing a pillow is to make sure that the pillow is not too bulky pushing your head and neck into a more “forward head posture.” Having a flatter yet supportive pillow while you are on your back will allow your neck, shoulders, and upper back to rest more flat on your bed and better align your posture while you sleep. If you are utilizing two pillows while you are on your back, attempt to use one. If you already use one pillow but it is a bit too poufy, invest in a flatter more supportive pillow instead. However, when you are lying on your side, it is okay to use a couple pillows or a larger pillow to ensure that your neck is aligned and not side bent while you sleep in this position.
6. Invest In a Posture “Corrector” Brace a. There are many options for Posture Corrector Braces on the market. When you search “posture corrector brace” on amazon, many types will show up. The basic design of this type of brace is a material that criss-crosses or offers a supportive backing towards your mid back between your shoulder blades. This material offers stability and a cue between your shoulder blades to position your upper quarter into a more aligned posture. However, one thing to be careful of when wearing this type of brace is to ensure that the attachment below the armpits is not too tight. There are many nerves, arteries, and veins located below our armpits. If a brace is too tight, it could constrict this region causing our hands to feel numb/tingly. If numbness/tingling in your hands increase while wearing the brace, either loosen the brace or take the brace off until the symptoms subside.
8. Ergonomic Work Set Up Whether you are working at home or sitting at a desk in the office, it is very important to ensure that your ergonomic setup is up to par to better assist you in maintaining good posture. When designing an appropriate ergonomic work set up, you should make sure to have a chair that provides adequate support for your lower and mid back. When sitting, your feet should be able to rest flat on the floor, the back of your knees should be situated at least 2 inches way from the seat to avoid compression of the tissues and blood supply behind your knees, and your bottom/low back should be placed nice and snug along the back rest to allow a 90 deg hip angle. From your bottom up, your spine should be aligned nicely along the backrest, which is why having a backrest that is supportive and upright as tolerated is important. Keep your shoulders back and down and allow your head to be placed directly above your shoulders in line with the rest of your spine. Your monitor should be centered in front of your field of vision and placed around 20-30 inches away from your eyes to avoid eyestrain. The top of your monitor should be level with your eyes so that you are not arching your neck to look up or bending your neck too far forward to look down at the screen. When positioning your hands to meet the keyboard, make sure that your chair is pushed far enough forward to allow the edge of the desk to be about 1/3 to 1/2 over the length of your thighs. Keep your elbows close to your body around a 90- 100 deg angle as you are typing on your keyboard. Remember if possible, take a short standing, walking, and/or stretch break every 30 minutes or so to prevent prolonged sitting and fatigue.
9. Opt for a Standing Desk with Proper Footwear a. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain the appropriate posture at our desk while sitting throughout the working day. Standing desks have become popular over the past few years for this reason. If possible, purchasing a desk that adjusts to allow sitting or standing when desired is highly recommended. When you are standing at a desk, make sure to be wearing the appropriate footwear. Tennis shoes would be most ideal to protect your joints. Especially for those of you who are able to work from home. However, if tennis shoes are not an option, choose shoes that have some extra cushion to allow adequate shock absorption and arch support. This will allow your joints to be protected from the ground up and it is much easier align your posture from toe to head. Please avoid heels at all costs. When standing at your desk, keep toes pointed forward, engage your core, and lengthen your spine. Keep your shoulders down and back while your head aligns directly over your center of gravity. It may be a good idea to stagger your stance with your right foot in front of your left and changing intermittently with your left in front of your right to take pressure of your back.
10. Participate in Yoga Postures a. The practice of Yoga has many benefits for your mind and body. One benefit among many is that yoga poses can help improve your overall postural alignment. One example of a common yoga pose is “Ardha Padmasana” also known as “Half Lotus Pose.” It is the yoga pose that many people start off with during the beginning or end of a yoga class. Also, people who chose to meditate often choose to sit in this pose. The pose involves sitting on the floor, crossing your legs, and placing pressure on your sit bones while your allow your spine to be aligned from your tail bone to the crown of your head. Shoulders are relaxed down and away from your ears, shoulder blades are gently drawn together, and your hands rest on your thighs/knees. Focus on breathing, relaxing your body, and being in tune with your posture while in this position. Any length of time in this position is beneficial. If this position is difficult to get in/out of or puts strain on your lower back, hips, and/or knees, then attempt modify the positioning by sitting in a chair instead. You can still practice the same technique while sitting in a supportive chair with your feet placed and supported on the floor.