I realized that the pain I’m experiencing is partially the result of my bad posture. I recently interviewed Dr. Bashar Salame and Dr. Rafic Alaouie, who run Health First Chiropractic Clinic in Detroit, MI, to learn more about how posture impacts our health.
According to many Osteopathic experts, the most common causes for poor posture are lack of exercise and spending long periods of time at a desk.
“I have to start by saying that sitting at your desk all day is probably one of the most detrimental things you can do to your spine,” said Dr. Salame. “About 50% of back complaints come from the extra stress people putting on their lower backs sitting too long. And when we sit, we tend to hunch our backs and collapse our shoulders.”
The chiropractors partially attribute weak back muscles and lower body back pain to poor posture. Knee squats and quick exercises like folding your hands behind your back and squeezing your shoulder blades together helps to activate and strengthen back muscles.
“Even by standing up at your desk, taking a few deep breaths and stretching your arms straight up in the air is a helpful practice,” said Dr. Alaouie, who noted that people don’t realize how many problems are related to poor posture and lack of movement. “I tell people who work at a desk all day to get up and take breaks at least every two hours to stretch and get their blood flowing.”
Poor posture can reduce the effectiveness of the diaphragm, which reduces the oxygen circulated through your body. It can also cause fatigue, headaches, immobility, stiffness and even diminished concentration.
“A lot of people complain and say they don’t have time to exercise, but small things can make an exponential change,” said Dr. Salame. “Take the stairs when you can, buy a pedometer and walk over to have a conversation instead of calling your co-workers on the phone if possible.”
He said their clinic’s motto is: Motion is life and lack of motion is death. Increasing your activity will stimulate brain performance and potentially save your life.
“All of our systems are directly linked to how much movement we do and the health of our heart,” Dr. Alaouie said. “If everyone did a brisk walk for 30 minutes daily, then 90% of heart disease cases would be eliminated.”
When sitting, you can improve your posture by making small adjustments. Dr. Alaouie said, keep your feet flat on the floor, your knees at a 90 degree angle and your back lifted and straight.
“I try to provide good reminders and solutions to our clients through periodic health workshops,” said Dr. Alaouie. “For example, most men I see tend to sit with their wallet in their back pocket. This is bad practice because it creates discomfort and unevenness in the spine.”
He said, ensure that your mouse and the other essentials that you constantly reach for are nearby. You shouldn’t have to stretch to use these items all day when at your desk.
“We do postural evaluations on our clients and try to observe how they sit and stand,” Dr. Salame said. “It’s our goal to maintain structural balance. We also try to get to the source of the pain and bad posture.”
There are non-health related benefits to improving posture, too.
“I think a lot of people miss the fact that bad posture also affects how people perceive you. If you’re slouching, they view you as sad, depressed and unapproachable,” explained Dr. Salame. “You never know if you are sending the wrong message to the people around you or missing opportunities because of their perception of you.
Do a shoulder roll: Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop — like a shoulder roll. Your arms should dangle at your side, with your thumbs pointing out.
Lengthen your spine: Adding extra length to your spine is easy. Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale.
Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles: Tighten your glute muscles when you walk. This strengthens your gluteus medius—the mid-section of your bum.
Don’t put your chin up: Instead, add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object. This will lengthen the back of your neck and allow your chin to angle.
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