We all fall foul of bad posture. We sit badly in our chairs. We slump when we are surfing the net. A lot of us even sleep badly, with our head twisted to one side and our arms curled into strange positions.
Over the weeks and the months and the years, these postural poor habits creep up on us. The body slowly develops muscle mass in the wrong places: too thick on one side of the neck; too thin on the other. Then one day we move, just a little, not very quickly or urgently: and something goes pop. Cue two years in and out of massage rooms and chiropractic clinics, while the pros charge what feels like a little mortgage to make the pain go away.
Here’s a little trick to keep those chiropractic bills away (hopefully). By paying attention to the centre of your posture every day, you can avoid developing some of the more painful postural habits: and even if you have them, you can manage them so you don’t develop an actual injury.
Effectively, good posture requires a straight spine, straight shoulders and a straight neck. You can easily check whether yours are in line or not. Stand in front of a mirror (naked helps) and relax completely. Look straight at your reflection. Are the gaps between your elbows and your sides the same for both left and right arms? What about the gap between your knees? If you drew a line through it, would there be an equal amount of space on both sides?
Now look down at your feet. Are your ankle bones touching each other? Could you put a ruler in front of your toes and have the ends of the longest toe on each foot touch it – or would you have to put it crooked to do that?
The chances are high that you will notice some discrepancy between the right and left side of your body, which will denote areas where your muscle mass has developed to compensate for a slight structural or postural problem.
Common areas for posture to go awry are the pelvis; the neck and shoulders; and the ankles. Poor pelvic posture (the pelvic bone should be flat, front to back, rather than tilted) leads to lower back pain or pain in the upper legs. Poor neck and shoulder posture can cause pain in the arms, hands, lower back and chest. A weak ankle, which may cause one leg to bow slightly, can have knock on effects in the lumbar and abdominal areas.
There are a number of exercises you can do to keep your body centred. Do them twice a day, in the morning and the evening, and you lower your chances of experiencing unmanageable discomfort as you age:
1: Pelvic raise: lie flat on your back and raise your pelvis to the sky. Keep your soles flat on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat.
2: Neck centring: Standing relaxed, move the head gently back and forward (like a chicken). Repeat at least 10 times.
3: Shoulder shrug: standing relaxed, touch your hips with the tips of your fingers. Slowly shrug until your shoulders hit your ears. Repeat at least 10 times.
You can also repeat these basic exercises whenever you feel stiffness or pain in the neck and lower back.