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Pain and Posture: The Basics

Pain and Posture: The Basics

Pain and Posture: The Basics

    Old “Doc” Plume, the local hardware store owner, who was known for his miraculous cures for arthritis, had a long line of “patients” waiting outside the door when a little old lady, completely bent over, shuffled in slowly, leaning on her cane.  When her turn came, she went into the back room of the store and, amazingly, emerged within half an hour, walking completely erect with her head held high.  A woman waiting in the line said, “It’s a miracle! You walked in bent in half and now you’re walking erect.   What did Doc do?”  She answered, “He gave me a longer cane.”

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      It’s funny; most of the people with bad posture or pain syndrome I run into want to know a miracle exercise that will cure their dysfunction.  Sure, exercise can help and be a big part of a program designed to deal with pain and posture.  But more often than not, it is the little things in our everyday lives that could use some adjusting.  With that, here is a short list of activities to be mindful of.

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      Driving: Do you slouch, lean to one side more than the other?  Maybe you keep one hand high on the steering wheel and the other low, causing you to shrug one shoulder more than the other.  The point: try to shift and change positions often if you spend lots of time in the car.  The best position will always be hands at 10 and 2.  And holding your back tall and flat against the seat.

      Desk: You should know by now that posture at the desk is important.  You’re in this position for several hours at a time and it can have BIG repercussions on your health.  Get up often and be aware of any favoritism to any particular positions you might find yourself in.  Reaching and twisting from a seated position is a big no-no.  Try to organize your desk to be more spine friendly by putting often-used folders and materials within arm’s reach.

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      Sleeping: Our sleep posture is one of the most overlooked aspects of our life.  You spend 8 hours (hopefully) a night in either one or various positions that could have a large impact on your posture during the day.  Do you pile the pillows high?  This leads to excess stretching of the extensors in the neck, possibly contributing to a forward head posture.  Do you pull the bed sheets tight over your feet, pulling your toes into a pointed position?  This can lead to limited ankle mobility, which then affects your entire body mechanics, from walking to sitting.  Do you sleep on your side with one leg bent and across your body?  This can lead to an imbalance between your left and right spinal erectors, which then could be contributing to your back pain.  This is can be even worse if you’re a woman with generous hips.  Paranoid yet?  I didn’t even mention how sleeping on your stomach can contribute to an excessive lordodic curve ,which then may lead to extra compressive forces for your lumbar spine to handle.  So which is the best position to sleep in?  On your side, knees bent, pillow between the knees and your head resting on a single pillow.  Or if you prefer, on your back with a pillow under your knees, sheets loose, and again, a single pillow for the head.

      The point I’m trying to drive home here is that we need to pay more attention to our bodies when they’re NOT in motion.  It’s the little things like these that add up and contribute to a life of constant and nagging pains.  Practice a technique known as mindfulness.  Every once in awhile turn your attention inwards and ask yourself; have I been in this position for too long?  Could I do something to make my current posture or situation more comfortable and back friendly?  Before you know it, the pain that once prevented you from doing normal everyday tasks will have disappeared and become a thing of the past.

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      Last Updated on August 16, 2018

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

      Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

      Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

      A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

      Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

      In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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      The power of habit

      A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

      For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

      This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

      The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

      That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

      Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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      The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

      Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

      But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

      The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

      The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

      A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

      For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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      But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

      If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

      For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

      These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

      For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

      How to make a reminder works for you

      Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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      Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

      Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

      My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

      Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

      I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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