If you’re like most people, you spend quite a bit of time sitting each day. Technology has improved our quality of life significantly, but prolonged sitting at a computer has taken a toll on our bodies.
Leigh A. Roberts, D.P.T., O.C.S., and owner of L A R Physical Therapy in Columbia, Maryland, focuses on improving posture with her many of her clients.
“Most people who end up in physical therapy need to work on their posture,” Dr. Roberts commented in an email exchange with HealthCentral. “Posture is so important to musculoskeletal health and is not taught anymore. We spend a great deal of time in physical therapy teaching people how to achieve correct/ideal posture. If there is anything that you can do to prevent injury, working on posture will go a long way toward having healthy joints and muscles.”
Dr. Roberts offers these five simple tips for her clients who want to improve their posture:
1. Visualize correct posture
Ideal alignment takes thinking about your body and your environment. Think of yourself as a stack of books with your pelvis, shoulders, and head stacked straight in a line.
2. Support yourself properly
Your chair should support you. If it doesn’t, add a pillow or towel roll behind your back or a stool under your feet. Change your environment by adjusting your chair height or lifting up your computer monitor. It is also important to think about where things are in your workspace to avoid too much bending and twisting.
3. Take a break
Schedule short (2-5 minute) breaks into every 60-90 minutes of work, or once every 30 minutes if you have a bad back or an injury. Use this opportunity to refill your water or to use the restroom.
4. Change positions frequently
Alternate between sitting and standing if possible. Many variable-height desks are now available on the market to assist with frequent position changes. Stand or walk when on a phone call and use an earpiece, if possible, to avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time.
5. Check yourself and reassess
Be aware of your posture and reposition when you catch yourself out of good alignment.
Dr. Roberts suggests doing simple exercises at your desk throughout the day:
1. Ankle circles
Extend your leg(s) out straight in front of you, one at a time or together, and circle the ankle(s) 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise. If performed standing, these exercises can be a nice balance challenge.
2. Hip flexor stretch
This opens up the front of the hip, which gets tight with prolonged sitting. Tuck the tailbone, lean slightly forward, and hold for 3 seconds. Repeat the stretch 10 times on each side.
3. Pelvic tilts
This stretch flexes and extends the spine. Tuck your head and chin and lift your pelvic floor for 3 seconds - then repeat 10 times. End in an upright seated position with a neutral spine.
4. Lateral trunk stretch
This can be done seated or standing to stretch your spine and shoulder. Lean until you feel a comfortable stretch and hold for 3 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
5. Scapula squeeze (scapula retraction)
This exercise stretches the chest muscles. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for 3 seconds. Repeat the stretch 10 times, then end with the shoulders more open in the front.
6. Chin tucks (cervical retraction)
This stretches the back of the neck. With your chin tucked down, push your head back into your hands for 3 seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times. Then end with back of the neck lengthened. Note: this could also be an extra scapula squeeze if you emphasis on squeezing your shoulder blades.
The bottom line
Take time out of your busy schedule to perform these exercises. They can be done in a few minutes each day. By improving your posture, you can prevent injury and limit neck and back pain caused by prolonged sitting.
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Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.