Health: Good advice – ‘Stand up straight’

By Debbie Bell/Franklin County Health Department, Published:

How many of you can recall a time when your mother told you to stand up straight? I am betting the majority of us can, and have most likely used these same words with our own children. But did you know that those valuable words of advice can assist in preventing several chronic health problems?

According to Dr. Dana Weissman Timmins in a 2012 article, poor posture is a problem that is often recognized but virtually ignored. Beyond back pain, poor posture can cause more problems than you may think.

Slouching adds more stress to the muscles and joints, which in turn can lead to accelerated arthritis and degeneration of the joints. It also impairs breathing, which causes oxygen deprivation, contributing to fatigue. Poor posture impedes circulation and can wreak havoc on digestion.

Studies show that poor posture and its resulting complications can be a problem for all ages; it’s not isolated to kids with heavy backpacks or cane-using seniors.

Poor posture can result from everyday activities like leaning over paperwork or straining to peer at the computer screen. What about spending all day tapping away on a computer keyboard, followed by slouching in a recliner for hours while watching TV? A sedentary lifestyle pattern that many people follow on a daily basis can result in the body adapting to an improper posture.

Dr. Weissman stated, “One of the most problematic postural discrepancies is the forward head posture (FHP). Ideally, the head should sit directly on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball sitting on a tee.  However, as the head protrudes forward to accommodate our daily activities, an increased load is placed on the muscles of the neck and upper back. Since the weight of the head is similar to that of a bowling ball (approximately 12-16 pounds), you can easily see just how much strain we are talking about.”

In addition, for every inch that the head projects forward, the weight experienced by the muscles of the neck doubles. For example, if the head weighs 10 pounds, two inches of forward head posture would result in the equivalent of 40 pounds of strain placed on the muscles of the neck. The human neck is designed to hold 10 to 14 pounds, not 40 or more pounds.  

The first step to improving posture is finding out what your posture truly looks like. Dr. Steven Weiniger, author of “Stand Taller-Live Longer, An Anti-Aging Strategy: 10 Minutes a Day to Keep Your Body Active and Pain-Free,” suggests this easy way to check your posture with any digital camera:

Have a friend or family member take three pictures of you: from the front, back, and side. Stand straight and tall when they take the picture, with what feels like good posture. Print out the pictures, one to a sheet. Next, put a dot between your feet on the front and back view, and on your ankle on the side view, and then fold each paper in half vertically, neatly at the dot. 

FRONT & BACK VIEW: The two halves of your body should be the same.  If your head and/or torso is off to one side, or your arms are hanging differently (one hand is lower or further from the body than the other), your posture is not symmetrical. 

SIDE VIEW: The line from your ankle should pass through your shoulder and ear. If your head is way forward of that line, you may have a FHP.

File your posture picture where you can find it. Next year take another picture to note any changes.  

The following tips may assist you in achieving improved posture: 

>Get a good chair, and change its position during the day.

>If you’re going to play video games, consider those such as the Nintendo Wii or the new motion sensing Kinect. 

>Invest in quality shoes, and consider using a shoe insert or orthotic, especially if you’ve had foot or knee problems. 

>Consult a chiropractor, physical therapist or massage therapist trained to assess posture and teach individualized exercise routines for pain management and wellness.  

For more information on achieving correct posture, visit  

Debbie Bell is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Franklin County Health Department, 851 East-West Connector.  

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