Pinpointing the origin of many of your aches and pains is no easy task. Whether it be the crick on the side of your neck that just won't go away or the mild tension on your outer hip that annoys you while seated in your chair at work, the reason for these discomforts can’t be easily identified. Many pains that start off as minor discomforts can snowball into full-blown-it’s-time-to-do-something-about-this-right-now-excruciating pain. The source, in many of these circumstances, unveils itself sneakily in the unconscious ways you move or don’t move your bodies throughout the day.
Let’s take a moment to think back on the last 24 hours of your life. How long have you spent seated in a chair, on the couch or even reclined in bed? How was your posture during these periods? Do you cross your ankles throwing off the weight in your hips while seated? Do you lay on one side applying more pressure to one shoulder? How about the shape of your spine? If someone took a picture of you without your awareness, what would you look like typing on your phone/computer or even driving? Add up these minutes and hours. How much time per day do you spend in these precarious shapes?
The reality is most of us sit, stand, and move throughout our days like we are some sort of contortionist, twisted into pretzels without the delightful cinnamon topping, setting ourselves up for a lifetime of pain and injuries. So what can we do about it? By being aware of your posture and integrating mindful habits you can discover the root for your pain and retrain your body to move with you instead of against you. Check out these 4 quick tips to realign your daily movement and identify the culprit of your pain!
1. Start By Identifying Your Problem Areas
Stand facing a floor length mirror without thinking about your posture. What shapes reflect back to you? Now, turn to the side. What shape does your spine make from the top of your neck to your tailbone? What you are looking for is an “S” curve. The concave curve of your neck matches your low back. The convex curve of your upper back matches the tiny convex curve of your sacrum and tailbone. This natural shape helps shock absorb when walking or moving and also helps the spine hold up your head.
We all have misalignments and much of our pain comes from the misshape of our spines. Some things may be obvious, others less so. Pick one area of your body that you notice a discomfort and visual misalignment. Below you will read a few realignments cues that can help with common aches and pains.
2. Shoulder Maintenance: Aligning the Upper Part of Your S Curve
Neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist pain? All of these may stem from poor posture in your shoulders from years of hunching over a computer.
The muscles between your shoulder blades are supposed to help with posture. The rhomboids and trapezius are responsible for pulling the shoulder blades together which naturally opens the chest. However, most of us round our shoulders and stretch the trapezius and rhomboids instead of strengthening them. If you strengthen your upper back, your chest will naturally open.
Follow these steps to find your proper shoulder alignment:
Lengthen your side bodies. Your upper arm bones may lift to the same height as your collarbone. The upper arm bones are now firmly rooted into the shoulder socket.
Hug your upper arm bones back and squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades (rhomboids).
Move your shoulder blades closer to your hips.
If you feel crunchy in your low back, breathe a little puff of space into your back ribs.
Walk around a little with your shoulders engaged in this way. You may notice it is difficult to maintain the squeeze between shoulder blades. If this is you, that’s your signal that this is an area to keep building strength.
There are many ways you can get stronger rhomboids and trapezius muscles. Practice squeezing your shoulder blades together when you’re sitting or walking for the bus or carrying groceries, do pull-ups, exercise with a rowing machine or a lat pull-down machine at the gym, or practice rowing at home without any machinery.
3. Low Back Strength: Align the Lower Part of Your S Curve
Low back pain? We’re talking to you. Our abdominal and low back muscles stabilize and control a significant amount of our daily movement. While leaning over the table, putting a heavy bowl down, and twisting in your chair to respond to your coworker who sits behind you, we need core strength. It’s important to build low back strength, front and side abdominals, so your body has 360 degrees of core strength.
Follow these steps to strengthen your low back:
Stand with your feet hip width apart or wider. Wrap an imaginary gym towel around your neck and hold each imaginary end with your hands at armpit level. Bend your knees, shift weight into your heels, and sit your hips so far back you almost fall backwards. Without moving your legs, lift and lower your chest 10 times, while only hinging at your hips. Your low back is most likely burning with effort. This is an excellent way to build low back strength and retrain your lumbar curve into a healthy shape.
In addition, missing the arch through your low back is pretty common. To retrain, practice core strengthening exercises or purchase lumbar support for your chairs to implement change in your daily posture. Even sliding a block or pillow behind your low back while seated in a chair can be a great reminder.
Standing? Visualize the lumbar curve or pretend there’s a yoga block between your upper thighs and you’re trying to squeeze it backwards.
4. Set Your Sight Straight Ahead
Look forward. It’s really that simple but as you can see in the picture above, many of us unconsciously look down at our phones. Bring your chin level to the earth and take note of how often your chin drops down or creeps up or out. You might notice your chin lowering most while texting, playing a game on your phone, or if your computer screen is on a desk that lower than eye level. Fix this by placing your computer strategically on a stack of books and use your upper back muscles to lift your phone to eye level.
It’s the little things that matter. Bad sitting habits—from slouching, crossing your legs, to looking down at your phone—can lead to serious injuries and chronic pain. The good news is, healthy postural habits can lead to longevity and less physical pain. Start small and pick one best practice to start implementing today. Then, ask a buddy to help keep you accountable. Chances are they could work on something too!
For specific questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note we are not doctors or licensed therapists. If your pain persists or is unbearable we recommend you speak with your doctor today.