Long hours at a desk, slouching over laptops, lugging half our worldly belongings around in a handbag slung over one shoulder (the same one) time and time again…
Most of us are well aware that, on a day-to-day basis, we’re doing a lot of things that aren’t very good for our posture – and this can lead to things like back pain, tense, aching shoulders and sore necks.
Around 28 million people in the UK suffer with chronic pain, and back pain accounts for a large chunk of this. A recent survey by FlexiHerb Muscle and Joint Pain Relief found almost a third (30%) of Brits say pain stops them doing things like everyday chores and exercise, with backs (34%) and knees (33%) cited as main problem areas.
“Good posture is important on many levels,” adds osteopath and biomechanics expert Claire McKenna, who’s working Movelat Pain Relief Gel.
Not only is it important to reduce the effects of load on the muscular skeletal system, it also influences the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system and the neurological system – essentially, all areas of the body. Poor posture can lead to digestive issues and problems in the pelvis and the gut, as well as respiratory issues following on from changes to the diaphragm, and headaches and upper back and neck pain due to muscle tightness.”
So, it’s pretty important then. But what about the less obvious things that might be damaging our posture on a regular basis? Here are 9 common – but less obvious – posture pitfalls to be aware of:
1. Using a smartphone to send emails
“We typically forward-bend our neck when using a smartphone, rather than holding it up in front of us. This repeated forward bending over many months can cause postural problems. The first sign will typically be an aching in the neck, followed by neck pains and possibly headaches. And using emails on smartphones generally takes up more time [than texting], so you are more likely to cause postural problems,” says Tim Allardyce, clinical director at Surrey Physio.
2. Loading the dishwasher
“We seem to spend most of our day bending. And while the thought of doing the washing up is enough to encourage you to let the dishes pile up, using a dishwasher can also encourage us to repeatedly forward-bend,” say Tim. “Instead, try to squat every time you load and unload the dishwasher. It’s great for toning the legs and butt, and will save extra pressure through your back.”
3. Wearing ill-fitting bras
“Bras need to fit properly so your shoulders don’t take all the strain,” note the experts at the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). “When shopping for bras, look for one which has an underband that is neither too tight nor too loose. Ensure the centre-fold fastener sits close to your body and that the straps are not too tight on your shoulders. Getting a fitting at a shop (many offer this service) is the best way to get a good fit.”
“Don’t forget how stress can affect your posture. In stressful situations, the added level of stress means the way you hold yourself is very different,” says Claire. “Stress increases your acceptance to pain – initially, in the short-term, the effect of adrenaline on the nervous system means you probably don’t feel pain developing. But the long-term effects of the stress hormone can lead to chronic pain and central sensitisation; essentially when the body starts to feel pain that actually isn’t there. The tissues have changed to the point where they feel pain even if it isn’t being stimulated.”
5. Picking up toddlers and babies
“Back pain is very common when pregnant and following the birth of the baby, while it can be made worse if you’re not using the right technique to pick up your child and when breastfeeding,” says leading osteopath, acupuncturist and masseur, Garry Trainer. “Your child can be a challenge to carry around, especially as they grow, so protect your back by bending at the knees when picking them up, making it more of a squat motion, and strengthen your core.”
6. Wearing flat ballet pumps and sandals
“People tend to wear flat pumps in the summer, which aren’t great for your arches. That collapse [in the arch] then goes on to affect the ankles, knees and hips and pelvis, which can have an impact on your posture,” says Claire. “If you do like wearing flat pumps, stick to short distances only. Any proper walking, or if you’re spending a long day on your feet, it’s definitely worth investing in good shoes, or sticking with trainers with arch support.”
7. Overdoing it in your yoga class
“While the benefits of yoga can be exceptional, you do need to be careful with some movements, especially repeated forward bending if you have a weak back or underlying disc problem, so moves like the Downward Dog, or ‘standing forward bend’ are to be done with caution,” says Tim. “If you start to get any kind of sciatica – or neural pains down the back of one leg, reduce forward bending and see a physiotherapist for advice.”
“If you could see the number of people that come in for physiotherapy and osteopathy following a long session of gardening, you may think twice about it. Gardening does tend to get people in bad postural positions for long periods,” says Tim. “While we encourage exercise and getting outdoors, try not to put your body under too much strain. Kneel or sit on your heels if you can to get lower, and change positions regularly to avoid putting stress on your posture and spine.”
9. Carrying heavy rucksacks
“[Be aware of] the influence of the rucksack on the spine; we tend to hunch forward due to the weight of the bag, so you change your whole standing posture and your centre of gravity,” says Claire. “Rucksacks are still better than a handbag – just don’t have a bag that is too heavy. Ideally it should be less than 10% of your body weight.”