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Many of us are spending more time in front of a screen these days — whether for work or for school —and it's leaving us hunched, slouchy, sore and probably a bit irritable. It's become so bad that I’ve started having flashbacks to my mom’s constant reminders in high school to "stand up straight!” (Sorry, Mom. Still working on it.)
Knowing that I probably have thousands of Zoom calls in my future, I wanted to figure out how to prevent a permanently stooped posture. Apparently, it’s a problem many people are facing.
“We’ve transitioned to a society that relies significantly on technology, and we’re even more sedentary,” says Dr. Srikanth Divi, an orthopaedic spine surgeon with Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, IL. “Problems arise when you don’t use proper ergonomics because you create muscular imbalances.”
You know, problems like chronic back, shoulder and neck pain. In fact, one half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms every year, according to the American Chiropractic Association. So what should we be doing to have proper posture?
“The best way to improve your position over time is to correct muscular imbalances through active therapy and strength training,” Divi said. “In general, you want your head over your pelvis because this position creates the least stress on your muscles and is the most economic for your body,”
Translation: Your posture didn’t get this way overnight, and a quick fix probably won’t do it. You actually have to put in some work.
With Divi’s advice in mind, I went in search of at-home help to retrain my muscles — and my habits — with the realization that it would involve some effort. Below are three products I found to be the real deal.
Full disclosure, I’ve tried lots of posture correctors over the years, but I’ve found wearing them to be so ineffective and uncomfortable that I inevitably quit after one or two uses. However, this model immediately provided support and also helped me open and roll back my shoulders. Unlike other correctors I’ve tried, it has rigid, bone-like supports that go between your shoulder blades, which served as a reminder to maintain the proper position. Better yet, the piece that attaches around the rib cage prompted me to engage my core.
One con: The fabric part under my arms was uncomfortable after a few minutes, so I found it helpful to wear this for short periods to create muscle memory. Plus, Divi says it's important to remember that wearable devices aren't the quick fix many expect them to be.
“While a posture corrector serves as an instant reminder to straighten up, you can’t rely on them to do the work for you,” Divi said.
I usually think of foam rollers for stretching my legs after a long run, but Divi says they can be a good option for counteracting a day of hunching at a computer by opening up your shoulders and back.
“A foam roller gives you a leverage point to stretch from or bend back over,” Divi said. “Stretching, in conjunction with strengthening back muscles, is one of the best ways of fixing your posture.”
My favorite way to use this roller is to lie with it lengthwise along my spine from head to pelvis, then extend my arms out to either side and let gravity stretch open my arms and shoulders. I especially like that this roller has a little bit of give, so it gave moderate pressure but wasn’t painful on my spine.
This cushion functions a lot like if you were to sit on a stability ball while working at your desk.
“If you’re hunched over, your abs contract and you’re going to have bad posture,” Divi said. “Wobble cushions force your muscles to engage because you have to work to hold yourself upright.”
I like this cushion because not only does it take up a smaller footprint than a stability ball would at my desk, it also put my abs to work without being distracting. While it was challenging to remember to sit with good posture at first, I was able to use the pillow for longer periods each day.
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