Good posture can avert musculoskeletal woes

Include the rule of opposites and micro-breaks

Good posture is important because that is when the musculoskeletal system works best, says Scott Bautch, DC, past president of the Occupational Health Council for the Arlington, VA-based American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and a practicing chiropractor in Wausau, WI. "Muscles, ligaments, vertebrae, disks, and nerves are meant to be in good posture," he says.

When people sit with their head forward reading, they strain their upper back, shoulders, and neck. Good posture allows the muscles to work more efficiently and the joints to remain in their correct position only carrying weight that they were designed to carry, says Bautch. If joints have to work harder because of poor posture, they degenerate faster.

According to the ACA, musculoskeletal conditions in the United States cost an estimated $254 billion a year. They report that one out of seven Americans has a musculoskeletal impairment. 

For people to have good posture, they need to be aware of where their joint is most comfortable, says Bautch. Neutral posture for the wrist is when hands are hanging down at the side and the wrist is not curved up or down and left or right. Good posture for the neck is directly over the top of the shoulders; and for the back, directly over the top of the hips. "The further a person gets away from neutral posture, the more unfriendly it is to the joint," he adds.

People have good posture when standing if someone can look at them and draw a line through their ear toward the middle of their shoulder right through the hip joint on the outside of the leg to the bone that sticks out on the side of the ankle, says Bautch.

Good posture while sitting means that the normal curves to the spine remain. The part of the back above the beltline should have a small concavity or look like a reversed C, says Bautch. The mid-back should be fairly straight, and there should be a slight curve at the neck.

Teach the micro-break habit

"People have a hard time keeping good posture for more than 10 minutes if they are sitting in the same position," says Bautch. That is why jobs that require a person sit at a computer for long periods of time can cause pain and injury.

Even when a workstation is set up correctly, the body needs to move. Therefore, it is important that those working at a computer take regular micro-breaks. "A micro-break is what I call the rule of opposite. I need to use the muscles I am resting and rest the muscles I am using. If I am leaning forward even a little bit I need to bend backwards," says Bautch.

For example, when people turn their head to the left to see materials they are typing, they need to turn their head to the right and backwards during their micro-break. If arms are down to the side and palms down typing, they need to straighten their arms out away from the body and then take them behind them, turning the palms out.

People need to start out in good posture with a good workstation, then take a break about every 10-15 minutes for one to four seconds and do something during the break that changes the posture.

With good posture, there must be motion and that equals micro-breaks, says Bautch. Doing something that puts a person in an awkward position or not moving at all is equally hard on the joints. Everyone will develop problems at the computer unless he or she does something to intervene. About 80% of the people who work at the computer for more than six hours a day develop neck, shoulder, upper back, or wrist pain within three years, he says.

The rule of opposite applies to all activities. When people work on an assembly line twisting to the right all the time, their posture will be right and forward, says Bautch. Therefore, their micro-break should include movement in the opposite direction. People who play tennis or golf should take a few minutes to swing the club or racket with the opposite hand. People shouldn’t even sit in the same chair every night to watch TV or to eat dinner, he says.

Because most people walk with their chins out in front of them, everyone can benefit by stretching backwards, says Bautch. This should include shoulder rolls, putting hands on the hips and stretching backwards, and putting hands above the head and leaning back as far as possible.

"It’s important to remember the rule of opposites in everything we do," he says.

(Editor’s note: The American Chiropractic Association has designated May as Correct Posture Month.)

Sources

For more information about good posture, contact:

  • Scott Bautch, DC, Past President of the Occupational Health Council, American Chiropractic Association. Telephone: (715) 842-3999.
  • American Chiropractic Association, 1701 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, VA 222209. Telephone: (800) 986-4636 or (703) 276-8800. Web site: www.amerchiro.org.