The pandemic has many of us working from home and living more sedentary lifestyles. This can affect our health in many ways, from the obvious, like weight gain due to inactivity, to the more subtle, like the hunching and slouching at home computers. Posture is one of the many health-related victims of the quarantine measures that have been in place.
“Poor ergonomic set up at home during the pandemic has resulted in neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand injuries,” said Karen Mitchell, physical therapist at Pouzol Physical Therapy in Bangor. “This pain can impact other areas of your daily life such as performing housework or yard work, driving, sleeping, standing to prepare dinner and many other daily activities.”
The biggest issue about the pandemic’s sedentary lifestyle as it relates to posture, though, is that people are simply not moving enough.
“Our bodies were simply not designed to sit or stand still for eight to 12 hours a day,” said Jeff Eckhouse, owner of Back Cove Personal Fitness in Portland. “When bodies become static for too long, patterns of inactivity become ingrained and the body loses some of its ability to shift and flow. Posture can’t be improved by sitting up tall with shoulders down and back, because it’s static in nature, and does nothing to improve the overall quality or freedom of movement within the body.”
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If you start experiencing neck and back pain, bad posture may be to blame. Aside from slouching and hunching causing back pain, though, bad posture can affect your health in other ways.
“Whether a person stands or sits while working at a computer, the static nature of office work can significantly impact posture and related health concerns,” Eckhouse said. “Sitting or standing still in front of a computer decreases the opportunities for movement within our internal structure, resulting in a host of tension and stiffness related issues including muscle pain, back aches, eye strain, poor alignment, digestive distress, anxiety, sleep apnea, brain fog, headaches, neural tension and more.”
Eckhouse added that an often overlooked source of postural problems is rigidity within the torso, ribcage and diaphragm.
“This core region of the body is critically important because of its influence on the way the rest of the body is able to move and function,” he explained. “Restriction within this core region of the body often leads to movement limitation, poor breathing mechanics, compensation, strain and tightness throughout the body.”
Mitchell said that many people suffering from the effects of bad posture have had trouble finding help for these problems.
“These patients were not able to see their doctor and getting an [appointment] set up virtually delayed their treatment,” Mitchell said. “Some were able to be accommodated by their employer with the new setup, but some were not. In many of these cases, the injuries have taken quite a while to resolve.”
Anne Johnson, another physical therapist at Pouzol Physical Therapy in Bangor, said that there are adjustments you can make to your home office environment in order to improve posture.
“In order to improve posture, you can make changes to your office chair, such as making sure it has a lumbar support and it is the correct height,” Johnson said. “When sitting at your desk looking at the computer, you should be looking slightly downward. Knees should be at 90 [degrees] or slightly below waist level. Shoulders should be relaxed, down away from your ears, [and] elbows [should be] at 90 [degrees with wrists] neutral, not tipped up or tipped down.”
There are many products on the market that are purported to be easy fixes for bad posture, like braces and bandages that strap across your shoulders to pull them back straight. However, Eckhouse said not to be too seduced by posture-improving devices.
“People often express concern over appearing slouchy, but posture doesn’t improve just by sitting up tall,” Eckhouse said. “Don’t be fooled by ‘posture corrector’ devices. They typically result in more chronic tension because they don’t address the complex sources of poor position and they don’t improve movement in the torso, ribcage, or diaphragm.”
The most important thing to prevent the negative impacts of poor posture, though, is to simply move throughout the day.
“Move in your chair and change positions often,” Eckhouse said. “Occasionally, stop staring at your computer screen and try focusing on an object at various distances. Also try regular walks to loosen up the body and counteract the effects of sitting. Make sure to swing your arms, look around at your surroundings, not your phone, and breathe through your nose.”
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There are exercises that can help strengthen the areas of your body affected by poor posture, too.
Johnson said that you can do exercises to improve posture, like core strengthening, upper back strengthening, chin tucks and stretching pectoral muscles.
“Other changes to lifestyle to improve posture include standing and sitting up straight,” Johnson said. “Also keeping [your] chin tucked in while reaching for something, while lifting, and while sleeping, using a lumbar support in your vehicle and favorite chair can all help to maintain that natural curve of your spine.”
Eckhouse said that to improve your posture and overall well-being, consider workday goals of better breathing mechanics.
“Breathe slowly with a focus on expanding the lungs and ribs in every direction,” Eckhouse said.
“Breathe in and out through your nose whenever possible. Nasal breathing has a profound influence on our parasympathetic nervous system, while mouth breathing stimulates sympathetic tone and leads to chronic tension.”