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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Prevent Back Pain

Why is good posture important?
When it comes to posture, your mother did know best. Her frequent reminders to stand up straight and stop slouching were good advice.

Your spine is strong and stable when you practice healthy posture. But when you stoop or slouch, your muscles and ligaments struggle to keep you balanced — which can lead to fatigue, back pain and other problems.

Your spine's curves
A healthy back has three natural curves:
An inward or forward curve at the neck (cervical curve)
An outward or backward curve at the upper back (thoracic curve)
An inward curve at the lower back (lumbar curve)
Good posture helps maintain these natural curves, while poor posture does the opposite — which can stress or pull muscles and cause pain.

Good standing posture
When standing, keep these tips in mind:
Hold your chest high.
Keep your shoulders back and relaxed.
Pull in your abdomen and buttocks.
Keep your feet parallel.
Balance your weight evenly on both feet.
Try not to tilt your head forward, backward or sideways, and make sure your knees are relaxed — not locked.

Take the wall test
To test your standing posture, take the wall test. Stand with your head, shoulder blades and buttocks touching a wall, and your heels about two to four inches (five to 10 centimeters) away from the wall. Reach back and slide your hand behind the curve in your lower back, with your palm flat against the wall.

Ideally, you'll feel about one hand's thickness of space between your back and the wall. If there's too much space, tighten your abdominal muscles to flatten the curve in your back. If there's too little space, arch your back so that your hand fits comfortably behind you. Walk away from the wall while maintaining this posture. Keep it up throughout your daily activities.

Good sitting posture
When seated, keep these tips in mind:
Choose a chair that allows you to rest both feet flat on the floor, while keeping your knees level with your hips. If necessary, prop your feet with a foot stool or other support.
Sit with your back firmly against the chair. If necessary, place a small cushion or rolled towel behind the curve of your lower back.
Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling, and tuck your chin in slightly.
Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight.
Keep your shoulders relaxed — not elevated, rounded or pulled backward.

Keep your shoulders straight
Whether you're sitting or standing, pay attention to the position of your shoulders. Slouching or rolling your shoulders forward shortens your chest muscles and reduces their flexibility. On the flip side, pulling your shoulders too far back causes your abdomen to stick out too far in front.

Check out your reflection
To see if you're keeping your shoulders straight, stand in front of a mirror or ask a friend to evaluate your shoulder position. Your shoulders should be in the same position as the image on the left.

It all adds up
Although good posture should be natural, you may feel wooden or stiff at first if you've forgotten the sensation of sitting and standing up straight. The key is to practice good posture all the time. You can make improvements at any age. Stretching and core strengthening exercises can help, too.

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