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Categories > Muscles and Joints > Back and neck pain

Posture perfect

Want to appear confident, strong and in control? Walk into a room like you mean it—head high and shoulders back. Wander in like a limp carnation and not only will you be sending out a “don’t pay any attention to me” message, but you could be hurting your health.

Bad posture is responsible for more than 80 percent of neck and back problems brought on by tight muscles. Muscle spasms in the lower back, compressed nerves or blood vessels, decreased lung capacity, chronic neck pain and headaches can all be caused by bad posture.

Mom was right

When your body weight is distributed unevenly through the spine and pelvis, your muscles waste energy by straining to support an unbalanced position. This puts stress on your spinal joints and discs and may ultimately lead to damage. In addition, rounded shoulders tighten the chest cavity, crowding the heart and lungs. And slumping can also cause women’s breasts to appear saggy.

All in all, your mother was right when she told you to stand straight. You’ll look smarter, younger and more confident. Plus, you’ll avoid unnecessary health problems.

The straight facts

To check your posture, try this test: Stand with the back of your head touching the wall and your heels six inches from the baseboard. With your buttocks touching the wall, use your hand to check the distance between your lower back and the wall and then the distance between your neck and the wall. You should have an inch or two at the lower back and two inches at the neck.

Try these tips to improve your posture:

Standing: Think military—head high, chin forward, shoulders back, chest out and stomach in. If you stand for long periods of time, rest one foot a few inches off the ground on a low stool or a book.

Sitting: Use a chair with lower-back support. Keep desk or tabletop elbow high. Keep your knees a little higher than your hips. Get up and stretch at least once an hour.

Walking: Wear comfortable, low-heeled footwear. High-heeled shoes force the pelvis to tilt forward.

Typing: At the computer, keep the screen 15 degrees below eye level.

Carrying: If you use a handbag, alternate the shoulder on which you carry the bag. Or use a backpack. Also, keep the bag as light as possible—extra weight puts unnecessary pressure on your back.

Phoning: If you spend a lot of time on the phone, invest in a headset. It will prevent you from curving your neck in an unnatural position.