Keeping Back Straight Can Lead to Better Health

A yoga ball can help strengthen abdominal muscles, which

Freeze. Don’t move. Look at how you’re sitting as you read this
newspaper. Are you slouching? Slumping? Hunched over the pages?
What is the angle of your neck? Is your spine arched too much?
Freeze. Don’t move. Look at how you’re sitting as you read this newspaper. Are you slouching? Slumping? Hunched over the pages? What is the angle of your neck? Is your spine arched too much?

If you’re like many Americans, you don’t have good posture – and you may be setting yourself up for a whole world of hurt.

Nearly half of all working-age Americans experience back pain each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic Spine Institute, and this pain is most often the result of prolonged poor posture.

“If you sit at a desk eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, with your shoulders rounded and neck bent, think about how much effort your back is making just to hold your head up,” said Jun Estrada, director of physical therapy at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister. “A lot of people complain of neck pain and back pain because of the way they position themselves throughout the day.”

As a physical therapist, posture is one of the main things Estrada focuses on with patients. Though most people need to be more aware of the position of their back, people who should seek professional help in correcting their poor posture are those who look in the mirror and see they’re stooped, one shoulder is lower than another, they naturally bend to one side or some other visible sign of something abnormal.

For the most part, people can help their posture by exercising and strengthening the trunk of their bodies, he said.

“Posture is important for overall body alignment and for preventing injuries,” said Chris Gardiner, a personal trainer at Xtreme Fitness in Morgan Hill. “Strengthening your abs will help support your back, and working the muscles in both the upper and lower back will improve a person’s posture.”

Weakness in the torso can cause the spinal cord to shift, or it can put strain on other muscles and cause stiff joints, Gardiner said. He recommends weight training and exercises that work on the body’s core such as pilates to help improve posture.

“People who have their hips tilted forward will put pressure on their lower back, and people who tilt their heads forward will have upper-back problems,” Gardiner said. “People working in offices or warehouses all day often have problems with their posture.”

There are few specific exercises to do for improving posture because every person’s problem can be different, Estrada said.

Shoulder shrugs, however, are one simple exercise that can help almost anyone with poor posture.

To complete a shoulder shrug, elevate the shoulders toward the ears, then bring them back as if you’re trying to touch your shoulder blades together.

Another slightly unusual way to help maintain good posture if you’re required to sit most of the day is by sitting on a yoga ball, also known as fitness balls or exercise balls.

The balls are made of a material sturdy enough to support a person’s body weight and are often incorporated into specialized exercise routines. But if a person replaces his or her office chair with one of these balls, the body’s core muscles will be activated, Estrada said. This helps keep the body in a healthy seated position.

“If you tend to let go of your back and slump over, you’re going to almost automatically have to engage muscles to keep from rolling off the ball or shifting from side to side,” he explained. “You’re going to be constantly engaging muscles to stay balanced, which is good for posture and strengthening muscles that will maintain good posture.”

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