There’s growing evidence that good posture contributes to a range of health benefits, from reducing back and joint pain to boosting mood. Healthcare professionals are increasingly taking posture into account when evaluating patients.
Good standing posture doesn’t just mean standing with the shoulders thrown back. More important is maintaining good alignment, with ears over the shoulders, shoulders over hips, and hips over the knees and ankles. Body weight should be distributed evenly between the feet.
Seated posture, especially while using a computer, is critically important and deserves more attention, in part because it can affect a person’s posture while standing and walking. It is essential to think about posture while walking, getting up from a chair or using a mobile phone or tablet.
The hunched-over position of the typical electronic-device user is of particular concern, and is sparking new back and neck pain problems in teenagers as well as adults. A study of 6000 Finnish adolescents found frequent use of computers, mobile phones, video game players and television was associated with greater rates of neck and lower back pain.
Posture is “probably the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to health and wellness”, says Allston Stubbs, an orthopedic surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, who treats patients with back and joint pain. “We see the spine and overall skeletal structure being critical to a patient’s functionality and their satisfaction with their life and healthcare.”
One of the most common posture problems, called kyphosis, is a direct result of spending too much time in front of a computer. The shoulders hunch forward, the pectoral muscles in the chest tighten, the neck and head extend towards the computer screen and the spine is no longer vertically aligned. Many desk-bound office workers have also started standing and walking in this position.
Research is also demonstrating links between body position and mood.
It has been long known that depression can lead to a slumped posture. But new evidence suggests the reverse is also true — that slouching can spark negative emotions and thoughts.
In one recent study, 30 people receiving in-patient treatment for depression in Germany were divided into two groups and asked to sit in a slumped or upright position. Participants were shown 16 positive words, such as “beauty” and “enjoyable”, on a computer screen, then 16 negative words, such as “exhaustion” and “dejected”.
After each word, they were asked to imagine themselves in a scene connected with the word, such as a time when they had felt depressed or beautiful. The participants were then distracted with other tasks for five minutes and afterwards asked to recall as many of the words as they could.
Patients in the slumped position recalled more negative than positive words, while those in the upright position showed more balanced recall, according to the study results, which were published this year in the journal Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.