When she wasn’t slouched in her chair at the computer, Daphne Morrissey was hunched over the mouse and keyboard.
She felt tired, stressed and cranky. Her wrist ached. Her doctor said if ice and anti-inflammatories didn’t work, she should consider surgery.
“There has to be a better solution,” the 48-year-old Rochester woman told herself.
Scared straight by the pain and the sight of round-shouldered, hunched women who didn’t seem that much older than her, Morrissey resolved in the fall of 2011 to change her lifestyle and started a fitness program that included posture exercises.
For many of us who use the new year to remake ourselves, vowing to lose weight usually trumps a promise to sit up straight.
“There’s no reason you have to have a singular focus,” said Brian Hahn, senior health and wellness director at the Carlson MetroCenter YMCA, who has been working with Morrissey.
Recounting the conversations he has with clients looking for advice on how to lose 25 pounds, he agreed, “I think people take posture for granted.”
Basically, posture is how the body is positioned. Good posture allows the body to move efficiently and puts less stress on muscles and joints, said Marcia Spoto, professor of physical therapy at Nazareth College and owner of Star Physical Therapy in Perinton.
Poor posture is what she sees on a trip to the grocery store. “All you have to do is look around,” she said.
“You have to know what it feels like to have good posture. Lots of times when people discover what it feels like, they become aware of poor posture because they feel tension on joints. When you’re in poor posture all the time, that feels normal.”
Morrissey said she just didn’t feel right and went to Hahn for a program that would provide stamina and help with everyday activities. From the first day, the program worked on core muscles and her upper back to counteract the forward position she always found herself in.
“If you think about your posture … if you stand up straight and walk with shoulders back, you display confidence and probably look thinner, too.” she said.
Interestingly, the more she worked on her back and shoulders, the better her wrist felt.
“I have better awareness of how muscles work and how they are connected,” she said.
“One part of the body triggers a response in another part of the body,” Hahn said. “Someone will come in with pain or discomfort in the elbow or wrist. The cause of that pain is somewhere else.”
Postural problems can stem from muscle imbalance, said Sue Wielgosz, clinical coordinator of the athletic training program at the College at Brockport.
Muscles that are too tight tend to pull on joints, and those that are too loose don’t hold the skeleton in proper alignment.
“If muscle is weak, it will allow poor posture because it can’t do the job to hold you in an efficient position,” Wielgosz said. “You want balance between the muscles that surround a joint. If you’re sitting all day, the muscle that bends the hip will shorten. If you don’t do any stretching, that can change the alignment with the pelvis.”
Wielgosz said that anything repetitive can lead to imbalances.
You might think of typing, tilting your head down to look at a tablet or playing video games. But carrying a purse on the same side of your body, slinging a backpack over only one shoulder or sleeping on your back with a pillow that pushes your chin toward your chest can lead to postural problems.
We may not pay attention to how we sit or move until a problem arises, and then we may not link it to posture.
“They say they didn’t do anything,” she said.
But they just weren’t aware of the position their body was in. “It’s not until it gets so bad that it interferes with their job that they go get help,” she said.
Carol Raes, 54, of Penfield is starting to pay more attention. As a court reporter, she’s in one position for long stretches.
“I find myself sitting as straight as I can. I’m more conscious that if my neck hurts at the end of the night, that’s because I’m not sitting properly.”
Posture tends to be more of a concern as people age, said Amanda Profit. “When you’re in your 20s, it’s all about eating right and losing weight.”
She recently did the balance test on her new Wii Fit, and the results pegged her as 60.
Posture is the position of the muscles and bones in your body. Good posture is when muscles and bones are in proper alignment whether you’re sitting, standing or lying down.
“Good posture is a good habit,” said Sue Wielgosz, clinical coordinator of the athletic training program at the College at Brockport. “Bad posture is a bad habit.”
A common problem is rounded shoulders, created by chest muscles that are too tight and upper back muscles that are overly stretched — often caused by excessive computer work or by using tablets.
As with other aspects of health, changing that habit can be a challenge. Having read this far, you’ve done the first thing — become aware that it’s time for a change. A health care professional can assess your posture. Part of improving is knowing which muscles are tight and need more flexibility, and which muscles are lax and need to be strengthened.
As for general suggestions to improve posture:
•Avoid getting stuck in one position for a long time.
•If you have to stand or sit for long periods, try to keep your head in a neutral position, meaning not jutting forward or leaning back. Try to keep your shoulders from creeping toward your ears, and try to keep your shoulder blades back so your shoulders don’t round to your chest.
•When sitting, try to draw your belly button to your spine, sit up straight and try to feel your spine lengthening. When standing, avoided jutting out a hip or putting your weight on one side. Try to keep your weight evenly distributed.
•Side sleepers can place a pillow between their knees to keep their hips aligned. Check the pillow under your head to make sure it keeps your neck in a neutral position.
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