Two-thirds of British workers suffer from back pain. Lucy Mangan, who spends too many hours hunched over a desk or lugging around a heavy handbag, looks at ways of understanding your body and using it properly.
Once, the phrase "good posture" brought to mind either a violently perpendicular, ramrod-backed sergeant major stance, or a deportment class full of debutantes balancing books on their heads.
Nowadays, the definition of good posture cleaves to a far more natural ideal. "Ideally, your body should be aligned so that if you were to drop an imaginary plumb line from your ear it would pass down your neck, through your shoulder, hip and knee and just in front of your ankle into your heel," says Martin Knight, a consultant spinal surgeon and director of the Spinal Foundation charity. "There should be a gentle curve to the lumbar [lower] spine, known as lordosis."
But if maintaining good posture seems simple in the abstract, the reality is very different. Modern life is filled with activities that could have been designed with the express purpose of causing us musculo-skeletal grief. My own waking hours are a case in point.
Like most people, I spend around 60% of them hunchbacked over a desk, occasionally by way of vertebral variation cradling the phone between my neck and shoulder while typing ever onwards. This is the kind of thoughtless behaviour that explains why two-thirds of the working population suffer some kind of back pain and that campaigns such as the recent Straighten Up UK, by the British Chiropractic Association, are valiantly trying to discourage. Like all of us, I poke my head towards the computer or TV screen for extended periods without acknowledging that the slender stalk of my neck was not designed to carry such a grotesquely heavy weight - the human head can weigh as much as 12lbs (5.4kg) - at such an angle for any length of time. And although my hamstrings have been saved much abuse by the fact that I am not a habitual high heel wearer, that other enemy of good female posture - the handbag that weighs even more than your head and gleefully pulls the spine off course with every step - is my constant companion.
What can be done? The first thing to note is that although our sitting and standing positions are important, they do not exist in isolation - which is to say that good posture is not simply a static thing. As fitness instructor Jayne Nicholls puts it, "I can teach you to stand with your pelvis in neutral and your stomach pulled in, but how much use is that? How many times a day are you standing still? Good posture is a dynamic matter as well, enabling you to perform efficiently and comfortably in all areas of your life." In other words, you are more likely to end up with less damaging ways of sitting, standing, working, driving etc if you have an integrated understanding of your body and learn to use it properly in the first place.
The most popular ways of doing this are currently yoga, Pilates and the Alexander technique. Many people head for classes on advice from their GP or other medical expert after a problem has developed. Others, like me, sign up as a pre-emptive strike against a modern lifestyle they realise offers them every chance of ending up looking like the bastard offspring of Quasimodo and the Witch of Endor, and spending their declining years shuffling crab-like towards the chemist for those repeat painkiller prescriptions unless they engage in some prophylactic exercise now. But how do they each measure up?
Source - Guardian