First we were fish, and we swam. Then we were monkeys, and we swung. Eventually, we evolved into fully upright Homo erectus, and we strode. And then Bill Gates invented the personal computer.
In 2012, after years hunched over emails, often with a phone wedged betwixt ear and shoulder, we’ve now devolved into a race of slouching Neanderthals. Over two thirds of the British population have suffered back pain at some point in their lives, according to the latest research from the British Chiropractic Association (BCA).
And that pain in the neck is far more than just, er, a pain in the neck. Researchers at the University of Leeds found that, due to interfering with signals between your neck muscles and your brain, poor posture increases your blood pressure, heightening your risk of heart disease. Here, MH shows you how to beat the slump.
1. Get the man in the mirror to change his ways
Diagnosis is the first step towards cure. Next time you find yourself staring at your reflection (beguiled by that chiselled jaw again, no doubt) drop your eyes down. “Check your shoulders are level and your head is not tilted to one side or your chin sticking out excessively,” says Olympic physiotherapist Darryl Reid.
For every inch your head moves forwards, 10 pounds of extra strain is placed on your upper back and neck muscles, according to Dr A. I. Kapandji, author of Physiology of the Joints. Close your eyes, set your body straight and open them again. “Pay attention to how your body feels in that position and make a mental note of it.” Use a mirror to check whether your chin is sticking out, your shoulders are hunched or your gait is lop-sided when walking, too.
Fix it: Suspected posture problems identified by eye can be confirmed – and temporarily alleviated – using Kinesio tape. Wear it under your clothes – in an ‘X’ shape running from each shoulder halfway down the back towards the opposite hip, with a horizontal strip connecting the top of the ‘X’ – and it will hold your muscles in the correct posture for up to 48 hours. If you’re still experiencing pain, posture isn’t your problem, and it’s worth going to see a GP.
2. Walk it off
Humans are active creatures. Our bodies are not designed to sit for hours on end. Nonetheless, around a third of the UK population spends over 10 hours a day sitting down, according to the BCA, and even desk-jockeys using one of the best ergonomic chairs aren’t immune to the posture problems inherent to a sedentary career.
Fix it: Stand up and walk away from your desk at least every 20-30 minutes, advises Reid. “Standing and walking helps to decrease stress on the discs and joints that dictate your posture.” Get more from your dawdle by making a phone call you’ve been putting off. Walking and talking cuts call times by up to 50%, as you get to the point faster, says Allen Elkin, author of Stress Management for Dummies.
3. Take the weight off your shoulders
Peering in disbelief at yet another unreasonable electronic missive from the boss isn’t just bad news for your stress levels. “It could result in a severe kyphosis,” says physical conditioning specialist Jan Keller – an emphasised curvature of the upper spine which makes you resemble a certain famed denizen of Notre Dame. Weak shoulder blades and stabilising muscles are a contributory cause.
Fix it: Looming over your workstation shortens and tightens the muscles in your back, which need to be long to prevent you rounding forwards. “A simple scapula retraction exercise will help lengthen these muscles and strengthen the weaker muscles,” says Keller.
Sitting at your desk, rest your arms by your side. Relax your neck and imagine you have a pencil between your shoulder blades. Pull your shoulder blades together and downwards, squeezing the imaginary pencil. Hold the contraction for 5 seconds. Do 10-15 reps three times a day.
4. Rearguard action
If your derriere is parked in an office chair from dawn ‘til dusk, make sure you schedule some time to work it. Strong glutes can be the difference between a healthy back and lordosis – curvature of the spine. “Strengthening your glutes helps pull your hips back into neutral alignment,” says Keller. Which safeguards your back against both injury and agony.
Fix it: Bookend your day with hip bridges. Lying on your back, rest your heels on a step with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle to your body in line with your hips. Fold your arms across your chest. Push down through your heels and lift your pelvis up to the ceiling. Once in full extension, squeeze your glutes and hold the contraction for 2-3 seconds. Then release the tension in the glutes and lower your pelvis back down to the floor. Do 12-15 reps twice a day.
5. Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’
Keeping your back and neck on the up and up requires your muscles to be in a relaxed state as much as possible. Taxing workouts, therefore, can be bad news for your posture even as they fortify the rest of your body.
Fix it: Foam rollers are designed to iron out tension, relax your muscles and improve your workout. Simply place one on the floor and support yourself with your hands as you roll your body back and forth over the foam, concentrating on your most tense areas.