Chronic neck, shoulder or back pain can become such a normal part of your daily experience that you come to accept it, but our article today hopes to empower and motivate you to improve chronic pain by working on one thing: your posture. While medication like Ibuprofen can lessen aches and pain, you can also help decrease your pain by changing your posture.
Poor posture contributes to chronic issues beyond neck and back pain. It can also lead to headaches, poor sleep, poor alignment, digestion issues, and stress. Review and try out these tips below on how to practically adjust and improve your posture, and as a result, your health.
Balance your weight by putting an even amount of weight on both feet when you are standing. It is common habit to stand in contrapposto, meaning with more weight on one side of our body. This causes one hip to jut out, and brings more stress to our spine, back muscles, and legs. Lengthen your back by keeping your weight evenly distributed.
Sit with both feet on the ground instead of crossing your legs. Keep your shoulders down and back, and draw your shoulder blades together to keep your chest open. Lift the crown of your head towards the ceiling to keep your neck tall and your chin towards your chest instead of jutting forward. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, perhaps you can add a large or full length mirror near you so you can catch your reflection and change your posture by self observation.
Adjust accessories or habits that cause strain. For example, if you tend to carry a heavy purse, switch to a smaller one that challenges you to carry less, or try a backpack that keeps the weight even on both shoulders. Pay attention to any hobbies or activities that cause you to strain your back or spine, or hunch over for long periods of time. Schedule an alarm on your phone to go off every 15 or 30 minutes to stretch and adjust your posture. Wear high heels for a shorter amount of time, and choose everyday shoes that are flat or low-heeled, with appropriate arch and heel support.
Proactively strengthen your muscles to help change your posture. Often, slouching is comfortable because you can feel the effort it takes to stand and sit straight. Building strength in your core abdominal muscles and back muscles will make it more natural to engage your muscles for your posture instead of letting gravity and habit pull you down and forward.
There are a number of ways you can build your muscle strength. The thing to keep in mind is progression: begin with exercises that are appropriate for your fitness and physical condition. Simple ways to begin include setting a timer on your phone so that every half hour, you practice drawing your shoulders down and your shoulder blades together, holding for 3-5 seconds five times in a row. This will help retrain your body out of a slouching posture.
Yoga, swimming and tai chi are also great low impact ways to help you become aware of different muscles and body postures. You can graduate to pilates and weight training if you would like more challenge and resistance later on.
Schedule Better Posture
Start small so that you can build consistent and lasting habits. It may be a good idea to schedule one small adjustment per week for the first month. For example, in the first week, you concentrate on pulling your chin back and downward so that your head isn’t extended forward. On week two, you can add hourly checks to make sure your shoulders are down and away from your ears. Week three can focus on pulling your shoulder blades together, and so on. Start with smaller posture corrections, and gradually build up to strengthening exercises. Write these down in your calendar, schedule timers on your phone, or take notes in a small notebook, whatever works for you. Let your friends and family know that you are working on your posture, and give certain people the permission to give you reminders and feedback so that you have the support of people who are around you the most often.
We hope these tips give you a good start, and also an idea of what steps you are building up to after the first ones.
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