Wednesday, 16 October 2013

World Spine Day

Today, 16 October, is World Spine Day, so I have decided to recap some important tips on maintaining a healthy spine. I have previously written articles on lower back pain, neck pain, scoliosis, and good seated and standing posture. Here, I will revisit some of the important things to remember in order to prevent these conditions and maintain a good posture.

With gravity, age, muscle weakness and bad ergonomics (how we carry out our daily activities), most of us tend to develop poor posture. This can often lead to lower back pain, neck pain and disc problems, which can be extremely debilitating and affect our ability to work, play, and perform our daily activities. In most cases, this can be avoided by strengthening the muscles around the spine to support it, and by correcting one’s posture.

First, I will recall some important things to remember while sitting at your desk. The following image shows the recommended way to set up your desk space for good seated posture.

Important tips:
·         Ensure that you have a good chair with decent back support, especially in the lower back region.
·         The top of your computer screen should be at eye level and you should not have to tilt your head downwards more than 15 degrees to look at the screen. If your head is tilted too far downwards all day, it may result in neck pain.
·         The screen should be directly in front of you, not to one side, as this will cause you to constantly rotate your spine, which may cause pain.
·         Sit with both your feet on the floor, rather than with the legs crossed, as this changes the alignment of your pelvis, which can cause lower back pain.
·         Your elbows and wrists should be at the same level, with your shoulders relaxed.

It becomes very easy to slouch over your desk, especially as the day passes. Therefore, one must constantly remind oneself to sit up, keep the shoulders back and the head looking straight forward. A good way to remind yourself of this is to get up out of your chair at regular intervals throughout the day. Movement is essential in preventing bad ergonomics, as it allows us to move and stretch our postural muscles, as well as reminds us of how we should be sitting. If you have a desk job, you must get up at least once every hour and walk around. Stretching the neck and back muscles periodically will also assist in preventing poor ergonomics. Movement is good for both the mind and body!

Next, I will recap good and poor standing posture, which can be seen in the image below:

For good posture, the ear, shoulder, hand, knee and ankle should all be in the same line. In the picture showing poor posture, you will see that the head protrudes forward, the shoulders are rounded and there is a severe arch in the lower back. This ‘hunchback’ posture puts undue stress on various parts of the body, particularly the neck and lower back regions, which will result in pain.

Some helpful tips:
·         Gently squeeze the muscles between the shoulder blades together, pulling the shoulders slightly back and down.
·         Don’t lock your knees while standing; keep them slightly bent.
·         Pull your belly button in towards your spine at all times.
·         Grow tall – feel as though someone is lifting you up by a string attached to the top of your head.
·         Don’t simply say to your children: “Stand up straight and pull you shoulders back”. Explain why by pointing out the way the old lady next door walks.

With age, the postural muscles become weaker, while other muscle groups become tighter, which often result in the ‘hunchback’ posture. Also, eye sight often deteriorates with age, resulting in elderly individuals looking down and therefore hunching over. Such age-related factors are inevitable. However, if individuals are educated at a young age about the importance of maintaining good posture, they will carry this with them throughout their lives and be able to maintain a better posture for longer. It is never too late to improve poor postural habits. By strengthening certain muscles and stretching others, as well as creating more awareness about posture and spinal conditions, poor posture can be improved.

Your posture – the way you carry yourself – says a lot about your character and attitude. Walk tall and feel proud of who you are! Keep moving and look after your spine, as it has to carry you for the rest of your life!

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