"Stand up straight! Don't slouch! Hold your head up!" Even if you didn't obey your mother when she nagged you, it's never too late to start improving your posture with good practices.
"Everyone can benefit from good posture," said Pamela Stanton, EdD, associate professor and head of the physical therapy department. "Poor positioning of the body can be improved and it is never too late to start trying to correct postural problems."
Many people think straightening up is important only for appearance. Although good posture does project confidence, strength and poise, it is also important because it contributes to our health and well-being.
Nature has aligned us so our center of gravity falls through our body and moves through specific bony landmarks. In normal, correct posture everything is balanced, said Dr. Stanton. Yet there are a number of things that happen to us throughout life that result in our posture changing.
When the body shifts and poor posture sets in, the bones are improperly aligned and muscles, joints and ligaments take more stress and strain than intended. Poor posture may cause fatigue, muscular strain, compression of blood vessels and pain. In addition, faulty posture can affect the position and function of major organs.
The most common postural problems are swayback and slouching, said Dr. Stanton. Swayback is a large curve in the back and slouching is when everything is moved forward and rolled in.
Computer use is the aggravating cause of a significant number of injuries related to posture and positioning. "One of the first things that happens with computer use is the user's head starts to move forward," said Dr. Stanton. "Once the head moves forward, posture is thrown off and the body compensates for the shift. The neck moves forward, the shoulders become rounded and a compensatory sway in the back develops." The result of this poor posture is pain, muscle aches, tension and headaches.
High heeled shoes, boots, tight clothing and wide belts also shift our center of gravity and move us out of normal alignment, said Dr. Stanton.
"Sedentary workers are most at risk for postural problems," said Byron Russell, PT, assistant professor of physical therapy. "People who have desk jobs should be very aware of their posture." Some postural problems are caused by structural faults. Although most structural problems cannot be corrected, it is important to be aware of them to prevent them from causing more injury or deviation, said Dr. Stanton.
Treatment goals for correcting postural problems include restoring range of motion, increasing flexibility and strengthening weak muscles. These goals can be accomplished through exercises and practice. Muscle relaxation techniques, massage and stretching exercises are also used to relieve pain and muscle tension.
"Of all the things that happen to our body," Dr. Stanton said, "poor posture is one of the easiest to correct."
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