Simple changes can ease the discomfort, long-term effects of ‘pandemic posture’ (copy) | south country

Tim Hogan

Bad posture is a problem of modern, sedentary life.

And the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic may have made poor posture, including slouching, more prevalent. As large numbers of people work from non-ergonomic home spaces or spend more time sitting in front of media screens, health experts talk of a condition called “pandemic posture” that can have ill effects on body and mind.

Kevin James, a doctor of physical therapy, has seen some of these effects at the Franciscan Outpatient Clinic in Schererville, where he works. “Over the past two years, we have seen a lot more people with neck and lower back pain problems,” James said. James attributes this increase in pain in large part to people sitting for long periods of time while working from home.

Likewise. Purdue Northwest Fitness Centers Manager Tabitha Stills has seen an increase in posture-related problems and cites the increased amount of time people have spent on the computer. “I’m just as guilty. I’m spending more time on the computer than I ever have and I find myself slouching.” It’s then that Stills tells herself “Sit tall! Shoulders Back! heads up!”

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Edward Mallory, of Anytime Fitness in Schererville, has heard an increase in complaints of neck and back discomfort from clients who have desk jobs as well as from hairdressers, dentists and others who keep their hands up and back rounded.

And keeping a “rounded back” for long periods of time can not only cause pain and stiffness but also affects the body’s posture. As Stills notes: “Everything is connected to the back.”

“The vast majority of people don’t sit with good posture,” said James. “They sit in what we call ‘sacral sitting’ where you’re sitting with your bottom further out so that you’re sitting more on your sacrum, or your tailbone.”

According to James, sitting with poor posture can lead to health problems including pinched nerves and sciatica. These ailments usually come from slouching forward and craning one’s neck toward a screen.

But with some effort, exercises and changes of habit, many posture related health problems can be prevented or corrected.

For starters, James says to sit with hips all the way back in the chair. This helps maintain a healthier curvature of the back, putting less strain on it. To help promote this seating posture, James suggested putting a rolled up towel on the seat, behind the belt line. This will promote a more natural posture and take pressure off the back.

Along with avoiding a rounded back, Mallory also suggests that people keep from rounding their shoulders when sitting, standing or exercising. Whether sitting at a desk while working or performing exercise as part of a fitness routine, Mallory suggests making movements that force the back and chest up.

All of these experts agreed that a sedentary lifestyle with long periods of sitting also can contribute to other health issues. “Get up if you can every 20-30 minutes or so,” Stills said. “Walk around, adjust your posture, sit up tall with that head up, shoulders back, chest out.”

Stills said that good posture and an active lifestyle might even provide mental health benefits. “We tell people that physical activity helps your state of mind,” said Stills, “If you’re in a better mood, your posture tends to be better. I find that when people come into the fitness center feeling good, they have that stance: That head up, shoulders back, chest out.”

“I think when your posture is upright, it gives you more confidence,” Mallory said. Some of Mallory’s clients say sitting upright even gives them a sense of feeling younger.

Stills stressed the importance of knowing the difference between “good” and “bad” pains.

“Is it pain like ‘muscle-burning pain’ or a different kind?” Stills asked. Muscle burning pain while exercising is usually the “good” kind of pain. But Stills cautioned that chronic discomfort or pain from every-day movements needs medical attention.

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