Posture and Backcare
Each occupational and recreational activity involves multiple postures which can often be prolonged or repetitive. Muscles are constantly at work to control these postures to ensure that no injury occurs to the spine. However, if these muscles are weak, or the stress from the adopted posture is too great (i.e. too repetitive or prolonged), injury can occur. For example, sitting at a computer all day; a manual labourer who is constantly bending and lifting or a tennis player who repetitively twists and arches backwards. Due to lifestyle changes over years – more sedentary and an increase in computer and mouse work – injuries to the neck and back are increasingly common.
Below are some useful hints in daily activities to help maintain a correct posture and healthy spine.
The small of the back should be supported at all times, either by the shape of the chair, a small cushion, or a lumbar roll. This applies regardless of whether you are sitting in the office, car, or just relaxing at home. Try to avoid slouching!!
Hips and knees should be at right angles, with the feet on the floor. Most office chairs adjust to allow for this. If necessary, a small footrest may help.
If working at a computer, make sure the screen and keyboard are directly in front of you to avoid repetitive twisting, and close enough to avoid leaning forward to view the screen. The top of the screen should be at eye level to avoid tipping the head up or down to see it properly.
Avoid prolonged sitting. Frequent short breaks are advisable to prevent straining of the spinal structures. For example, get up to get a drink, use the photocopier, do another task at home, or even just to stretch.
When using the phone, avoid holding it between ear and shoulder whilst freeing up your hands for other tasks!! Either use your hand to hold the receiver or use a headset. The same advice applies to use of mobiles when out or at home – use a Bluetooth headset if necessary.
In a car, the whole spine should be supported by the seat, which is completely adjustable. Some also have adjustable lumbar supports – use them!! The head should be on the head-rest. Avoid leaning forward – if you are unable to see where you are going without leaning forward, the seat is not adjusted correctly.
Bending, Lifting, Carrying
Where possible, avoid repetitive or prolonged stooping or bending over – bend your knees instead.
When lifting, face the object, and stand close to it with your feet wide apart for balance. Bend your knees, keeping your back straight. Hold the object in front of you, close to the body. Lift by straightening your knees. Put the object down in the reverse way.
Do not twist whilst lifting – move your feet round instead.
When carrying, distribute the load evenly. Hold the object in front of you but close to the body.
A rucksack has 2 shoulder straps – use them!! Avoid slinging the rucksack over 1 shoulder.
Handbags can be worn diagonally across the front of the body. This is also a safer way of carrying them with regards to crime prevention.
In the Home
Tasks such as (un)loading the dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer should be done on the knees or squatting.
Making the beds and cleaning the bath/toilet can be done in a similar way.
Ironing – avoid stooping. Stand straight – put the ironing board on books to raise it to your height if necessary. Alternatively, sit to iron. Take regular breaks.
Shopping – use more bags with less in each to reduce the load you carry. This does mean more journeys from the car to the house. Do not think that because each bag is lighter that you can carry more in one go!!
Telephone – avoid holding the phone between your ear and shoulder in order to free your hands for another activity at the same time. If you are a frequent telephone user at work, try a headset.
Ensure your head and neck are well supported by enough pillows to maintain a posture where your head is equidistant between your shoulders.
The correct posture to maintain is the chin tucked in and shoulders relaxed and down. If this happens, the low back posture should follow.
Excellent methods to improve and maintain good posture are Pilates, yoga, and the Alexander Technique. Local instructors can be found through their respective websites.
By adopting a good posture and taking time to think about how you undertake certain activities, you can maintain a healthy, injury-free spine.