It may seem comfortable to slouch while sitting or standing, but you can pay a physical price for it. In this KERA Health Checkup, family physician Dr. Paul Kim of Baylor Regional Medical Center Grapevine talked about the dangers of poor posture and ways to guard against it.
Dr. Kim: Bad posture actually leads to more wear and tear of your neck, of your back, which is increasing the risk of herniations of your discs; also arthritis. All these things add up to cause quite a bit of debilitation. A lot of people miss time at work because of the pain.
Baker: So what exactly is good posture?
Dr. Kim: Good posture is where you have your ears and your shoulders and your hips aligned. And where you try to evenly distribute your weight so that the pressures are not on specific hotspots like your neck, or your lower back. This is something you have to actually be mindful of and constantly readdress. A lot of us have muscle memory from sitting in front of the TV, or sitting in chairs, where we just kind of naturally slouch. It’s constantly like, looking, going ,’Oh, wait. I realize that my neck is leaning forward, maybe that the monitor is too far away from my face, and I’m learning forward. For every inch that you lean forward, you’re adding a lot more weight. Some of the numbers have been like, 30 pounds of weight for every few inches that you learn your neck forward.
Baker: Many people, for instance, spend a great deal of time these days in front of computers, sitting down at desks. Many people are using poor posture then, what can they do to correct that?
Dr. Kim: Use your feet when you sit. And you shouldn’t dangle your legs, cross your legs. Because supposedly your feet should support your weight and help stabilize your back. Otherwise, if you’re cross-legged and if you’re trying to maintain your whole back by your lower back muscles, that will cause wear and tear and pain. Another thing is, also, try to sit a lot closer to your work. Often, if the monitor is far away or in a bad position, your neck will bend forward and you’ll worsen the curvature. And that will actually cause the pain again because for every inch or so that your head is in front of your spine, it’s going to increase a lot of the pressure and it’s going to cause a lot of strain and wear and tear on your spine. The screen should be about two or three inches below your seated eye level. Some of us use laptops and that’s one of the banes of our postural existence, because the laptops are often on our laps. Which is much lower than the two to three inches that they recommend.
Baker: Can you have poor posture while sleeping?
Dr. Kim: Often when we’re sleeping, we’re in very, very bad posture. And you’ll feel it when you wake up in the morning. Some of us, for unnatural causes, sleep on our stomachs, and that’s probably one of the worst things you could do for back. Cause it causes a lot of strain on your back. What is recommended is to sleep either flat on your back or on your side. But also, you have to be very mindful of pillow usage. What they recommend is one pillow, and also when you’re sleeping on your side, to use the pillow only under your head and not under your shoulder, because you really want to align everything as good as possible at nighttime.
Baker: When you’re away from work, are you ever tempted, when just noticing people, to tell them to sit up straight, or just stand up straight?
Dr. Kim: I do want to but it’s an area of contention. Often people don’t want unsolicited advice. I tried to tell them in a very inoffensive manner, but sometimes that takes a lot of tact. It’s a little hard to do. But you do notice it quite a bit. It’s actually the second-most common reason why people come to see their primary care physician, of course number one is colds and sinusitis and upper respiratory infections and the like. But back pain is number two.
Dr. Paul Kim is a family physician at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Grapevine.
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