Do You or Someone You Know Suffer From Back Pain?
Do you sit a lot at work? Then maybe what you need is Postural Hygiene exercises.
What Is Postural Hygiene?
Postural hygiene is a term I developed to encourage my clients to perform quick and easy daily exercises that off-set the daily tension that builds in our muscles due to gravity, poor body mechanics, stress and other such factors that can cause back pain.
Why bother doing postural hygiene exercises?
I think it would be fair to say that most of us hope to remain functionally independent well into our senior years. So I ask you, what action plan do you have in place today that will ensure you will be healthy, fit and strong enough to do simple things like getting off your toilet seat by yourself when you’re older?
It’s a daily thing.
When we were young children, our parents forced us to learn and perform daily ritual activities such as brushing our teeth and bathing. At the time, these activities were more of a pain than a joy to perform, however, today, we would never consider going through a day without brushing our teeth! In the same way that plague accumulates in our mouths over the day, so too does the tension in our neck, shoulders and back. Postural hygiene exercises are to our bodies what brushing is to our teeth; they must be performed daily to off-set the mounting tension caused by gravity. However, just as when we were young, practice, consistency and persistence are the essential keys to adopting these postural exercises into our daily routine.
Gravity and Back Pain
Everyday our bodies experience the pull of gravity and its influence on our posture. Our shoulders, neck and back tend to be the most affected areas. Over the course of the day, tension increases in these areas because these muscles are continually fighting to offset gravity’s pull and maintain an upright posture. Lactic acid builds in the muscular areas under the greatest tension, which over time, causes painful muscular spasms, trigger points of pain, burning sensations and knots. If not addressed, permanent postural and spinal deformities may develop as we age. By doing postural hygiene exercises, you are able to release some of the tension building within your muscles, improve blood circulation to these areas, which removes the lactic acid, and maintains your focus of concentration longer.
Statistically, people with occupations that involve sitting and standing for long periods of time (over 1 hour) tend to be more susceptible to aches and pains in the shoulders, neck and back than those individuals with jobs that involve movement. Performing the exercises below every 45 minutes, will release increasing tension and enhance your productivity and stop back pain. In fact, one client of mine reported an increase in productivity from two hours (before the onset of pain) to eight hours, the very next day! Postural hygiene exercises really work!
We are victims of our own technology. With the invention of computers and other such time saving devices, we are able to do more work with less physical effort. As a result, we live sedentary lives and our bodies become storage tanks for tension, stress, and disease. In the past, physical labour forced us to be active while today, we must force ourselves to incorporate physical activity into our daily routine. Postural hygiene exercises can be done just about anywhere and take only seconds to complete. By doing even just one postural exercise periodically throughout the week, you can release tension, reduce back pain and feel better.
Injury and Back Pain
Many neck and back pain or spasms can largely be attributed to our sedentary work and home life. Long-term inactivity causes our postures to droop; this drooping effect can causes muscular imbalances. Some muscles (i.e. the chest muscles) get used to being tight and shortened while others (i.e. the back muscles) tend to become weak and over-stretched. This imbalance then leaves you susceptible to injury. The medical profession is all to familiar with the comment “Doc, all I did was bend down to pick up my pencil and my back went out”. Studies have shown that back and neck injuries of this sort are the result of not one single event, but are due to the accumulation of months or years of poor postural habits. Stretching what is tight and strengthening what is weak is the key to reducing your risk of injury; the postural exercises below do both effectively.
Prevention is the key
Unfortunately, many of us live our lives by reacting to a crisis rather than preventing one. Ninety-seven percent of all medical costs go for the treatment of an illness, injury or disability; only 3% goes towards preventative care. These statistics are outrageous considering that many medical problems can be prevented. The remedy lies in our attitudes and our awareness of our daily routines. Change your thinking, take a proactive stance. Be aware of how your work and home activities/environment contribute to poor posture (ie. carrying bag on the same shoulder). Next take action and incorporate some of these easy exercises in your daily routine to wake up your body, mind and posture.
Most people benefit from the exercises below, they tend to offset the effects of gravity’s pull and release the tension that builds up in our necks and backs over the course of the day.
- Standing or sitting
- Draw chin back and attempt to flatten the back of your neck
- Chin should remain parallel with the ground
- Hold for 5 seconds each, repeat 5 times, as often as you can remember during the day
- Place hands on the top, back portion of your head
- Suck in and hold your stomach taut
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bring your elbows around behind your head
- Look up slightly to the ceiling
- Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 3-5 times
- Sitting upright in your chair
- Turn and reach for the back of the chair
- Using your arms gently twist your body
- Go only as far as is comfortable, no pain please.
- On a scale of 1(no stretch) to 10(extreme stretch) the stretch should be about 4
- Take a deep breath, hold for 1 second, release (if you have a cardiac condition, consult your physician first before performing)
- Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-4 times
- Grasp your hands behind you
- Squeeze your shoulder blades down and back
- Keep stomach taut and don’t arch your lower back
- Hold for 5-10 seconds, repeat 3-5 times
- Lying on the floor
- Arms bent and up by your head
- Slightly push your hands and elbows into the floor
- Maintain this pressure and move hands above your head
- Repeat 3-5 times
Ab Lean Back
- Place your hand on your abdomen
- Lean back slightly until abdomen goes flat
- Suck stomach in and up
- Stand up straight and hold stomach flat
- Sitting on a stability ball
- Keep posture upright and stomach taut
- Roll the pelvis forward and backward 5-10 times
- Roll the pelvis sideways left and right 5 – 10 times
In the Car
- Sit up straight
- Re-adjust your mirrors while in this upright position
- When you begin to slouch, don’t move the mirrors, just sit up again
- If your job involves sitting or standing for long periods of time (over 1 hour), set a timer/watch to sound-off every 30-45 minutes and then do 1 or more of these exercises. Remember, the objective is to offset the daily stress and tension.
In the end
There is little any physician, therapist or pill can do for your posture and your health, than what you can do for yourself. By being aware of your posture and practicing even a few of these simple exercises daily, you can offset the short- and long-term effects of gravity and reduce or eliminate back pain. Remember to ask your personal trainer to help support you with these daily exercises.
André Noël Potvin, MSc, BCRPA-TFL, ACE, ACSM CPT, founder of Infofit School for Personal Trainers