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24 Mar 2021

Modern lifestyle is conducive to a variety of physical ailments and improper posture often causes a host of disorders that seem to stem from incidental causes. “Back pain starts with poor posture and that association is not clear because it is slow and happens over time,” says Dr Biswajit Dutta Baruah, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, KIMS Oman hospital


When we talk about vacation, a common image that appears in our minds is of a person flopped on a beach chair with his legs propped up enjoying the cool summer breeze. With the onset of the pandemic, work from home has become the norm, and it’s not uncommon for people to do the same at home. May be, our idea of relaxation is to sit that way, or possibly for many of us, it is a matter of habit.

It’s not only office goers who are prone to this poor posture. You also find this commonly in teenagers who are slouching on a sofa, eyes glued to their screens and fingers moving furiously on their consoles. Or the receptionist who’s bent over her table pecking away lazily at the keyboard with her fingers.


Sitting – the new smoking

Sitting constantly in the same position, by itself makes certain muscle groups shorten and over-stretches other muscle groups. This leads to asymmetry that promotes poor posture and adds to the problem. Hamstrings, the muscles on the back of the thighs, become tight indicating poor posture and are often associated with back pain. This has led a few doctors to claim sitting as the new smoking. 

Many therapists therefore promote standing when at work, standing desks being popular once upon a time among software developers. However, prolonged standing has its own set of problems like varicose veins and muscular fatigue.

Most patients who come to the doctor with back pain speak about an activity, like lifting something heavy when bending forwards, that resulted in their pain, presuming that to be the source of their discomfort. That is not the case. Back pain starts with poor posture and that association is not clear because it is slow and happens over time. The effect of poor posture is cumulative and happens in small measures over time. By the time poor posture rears its ugly head the damage is already done.


Seahorse symmetry

When viewed from the side, the human back bone (spine), a stack of blocks of bone called vertebrae, has three curves. The spine gently curves forward at the neck (cervical spine) and the lower back (lumbar spine) while curving backwards at the region of the chest (thoracic spine). 

The best way to visualize this is to think of the erect seahorse and its S-shaped body. These curves help maintain balance and flexibility, and are supported by the surrounding muscles. When seen from the front the spine must be straight with symmetrical shoulders and hips.

A balanced spine exerts the least amount of strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the spine allowing us to function efficiently. Slouching on the other hand, leads to exaggeration of the backward curve of the upper back (thoracic spine) and reversal of the forward curve of the lower back (lumbar spine) resulting in a C-shaped curve. This leads to imbalances, asymmetry and low back pain.


Right posture

So what is the right posture to maintain? When sitting, the buttocks must be way back in the angle of the chair, with the back touching the chair’s back, shoulders relaxed and pulled slightly back, head held upright and the computer screen is best at eye level with the keyboard at least at an arm’s length away.

Getting up frequently from your chair to grab a cup of coffee or stretch yourselves and move your head or arms around is a good way to maintain flexibility in the spine and its associated muscles.

Maintaining good posture also needs good abdominal and back muscle strength. So sitting up straight is not just enough. In fac,t it may be difficult to do so for a long time when muscles are weak. Maintaining a good core is important to sit erect. Core body is the part of the body between the neck and waist. Regular core strengthening exercises are necessary.

At times one may need the help of a physical therapist and go through a personal training plan involving core strengthening. Stretching every 30-60 minutes is a good to relieve the tension on the ligaments that hold the spine together. This relieves bad posture patterns and helps muscles return to their neutral.

Studies have shown that good posture not only helps prevent low back ache but studies have shown that those who sit erect have better self confidence and perform tasks more efficiently.

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