The power of posture: avoid back and neck pain with simple steps

The power of posture: avoid back and neck pain with simple steps

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Poor posture can not only lead to back and neck discomfort, it can also cause a number of other health concerns, including spinal stress, shoulder and arm pain, and even digestive problems.

Maintaining good posture is a daily struggle that's all the more difficult because of mobile devices. In recent years, "text neck" has emerged as one of the leading causes of spinal stress, occurring when the head is titled in a forward or downward position while the shoulders are drooped.

According to a 2014 study in Surgical Technology International, people spend an average of two to four hours a day with their heads tilted over mobile devices. That's an estimated 700 to 1,400 hours of excess stress on the cervical spine very year. High school students may spend an extra 5,000 hours in poor posture, the study found.

"While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues," researcher Dr. Kenneth Hansraj wrote in the study, "individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over."

Becky Corran, the chairwoman for the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at Doña Ana Community College, said poor posture is a prevalent health concern across people of all ages.

"I can see it in everyone around me, not only in students but also my colleagues, because we are (constantly) looking at our phones," she said, "and it is affecting our posture."

Corran, who is also an associate professor of public health, said mobile devices should be held directly in front of the eyes. This way, people are not looking down and placing stress on their spines, she said. 

Simple core-strengthening exercises can help improve posture, Corran said. There are also mobile apps that have been specifically designed to help users maintain good posture, she said. These apps include PostureZone and Posture Corrector for iOS, and PostureScreen and Posture Reminder for Android.

"Some of these apps use the cameras on your phone to record yourself," Corran explained. "And then it will give you physical reminders to tell you that your posture is slipping, like when your're working or standing."

Corran said lower back pain is one of the most commonly reported occupational risks among workers who spent most of their workday either sitting or walking. And, new research is showing that there's a correlation between posture and obesity, she added.

"There is some suggestion that posture is related to our abilities to stay fit," she said.

Chris Daugherty, a chiropractor who has been practicing in Las Cruces since 2005, said poor posture can also slow the metabolism, making it more difficult to digest food.

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Daugherty also said sitting or slouching for long periods of time is "bad" for the whole body, adding that spinal discs need regular body movement to stay hydrated. Without regular movement, spinal discs can become dehydrated, which can lead to health issues, he said.

For this reason, Daugherty recommends exercising and stretching on a regular basis.

He also offered the following advice for people who have to sit for long periods:

• Elevate your computer screen so that it is at eye level.

• Keep arms at a 90-degree angle while typing, which he described as a "more natural position."

• Stand up and stretch as much as possible — at lease once an hour.

Daugherty also recommends getting monthly back adjustments with a chiropractor. “This balances your body and gets it back into a more natural position,” he said.

He said back adjustments can be completed in less than five minutes and can alleviate back pain by realigning the spine.

As for text neck caused by mobile devices, Daugherty was blunt. “Get off electronics and get outside and do more constructive things," he said. 

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