Sitting pretty

Perhaps because today is my dearly beloved deceased mom's birthday my thoughts go to her and I am reminded of some of her best advice.  One piece of wisdom she imparted was to "sit up straight" and "walk with your head up, back straight".  Both have proven to be not only absolutely correct but medically important to those of us with RA.

Because of our pain and joint issues many of us tend to slouch, however unintentional.  The effects of bad posture are many, and can actually be really serious. When people slouch, their heads come forward. Slouching also forces the shoulders to come forward. This can lead to jaw pains and headaches, shoulder and back pains.  I never realized how important posture and proper alignment was until I started to notice myself not following good habits, often because of pain and discomfort.  It takes a degree of vigilance to ensure that we are following good habits for our posture.

According to Prevention magazine depression can be associated with slouching and poor posture.  They report that in a recent study from San Francisco State University, students were told to either walk down a hall in a slouched position or to skip. The slouchers reported increased feelings of depression and lower energy than skippers.

Additionally slouching can effect how people interpret your attitude and how they see you. You don’t want to walk into somebody’s office slouching and bent over, because people really do perceive you as not as vital, alert or attentive. Slouching makes you appear less professional. Conversely, good posture makes you appear more confident.

Posture can play a role in stress as well. A recent study from Harvard showed that when people who adopted powerful postures (open shoulders and straight spines) had a 20% increase in testosterone levels and a 25% decrease in cortisol levels—but people who slouched had a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. That translates into low self-confidence and high stress. And sitting slouched over can compound the problem. Shallow chest breathing strains the lungs, which must move faster to ensure adequate oxygen flow, and taxes the heart, which is forced to speed up to provide enough blood for oxygen transport. The result is a vicious cycle, where stress prompts shallow breathing, which in turn creates more stress.

Proper posture helps your muscles to work more efficiently so that they do not become as fatigued. The head is like a bowling ball on a stick (your neck). If the head is constantly forward, such as when you slouch, the weight of gravity has to be countered by muscles in the back of your neck and shoulders, and over time this leads to muscle fatigue and likely pain.

So what to do?  here are some suggestions from the experts:

Proper sitting posture:

  • Feet flat on the floor (or propped on a footstool if needed)
  • Knees should be level with hips or even slightly higher
  • Sit back in the chair so your spine is supported
  • Shoulders should be relaxed, not pulled upward or elevated
  • Ears should align with the shoulders
  • Shoulders should not be rounded or hunched
  • Computer screens should be at eye level so the neck can remain neutral

Proper standing posture:

  • Shoulders back and relaxed
  • Neck and head in line with shoulders from the side
  • Weight balanced on both feet evenly, with feet about hip width apart and knees relaxed (not locked)
  • Abdominal muscles slightly activated
  • From the side, should be able to draw a straight line through the earlobe, shoulder, hip, ankle

Since oftentimes poor posture comes from bad habits it is necessary to check in with your posture from time to time to ensure you are following the "straight" and narrow!


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