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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 orthopedic 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 the products I found to be the real deal.
Best affordable products to improve posture
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 roller exercise to improve my posture 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.”
While it was initially challenging to remember to sit with good posture on this cushion at first, I was able to use the pillow for longer periods each day.
Posture improvers worth the splurge
While this may look like your typical sports bra, it actually trains your body to make perfect posture second nature. Made with materials designed to "deliver focused tension" while guiding your muscles to realign itself in real time, many customers raved about how comfortable and effective this improve posture bra is.
If you need physical encouragement to sit up straight, this posture trainer from Upright Go will do the trick. This comfortable-to-wear smart device attaches to your back and gently vibrates when it detects. It can also be used by itself or connect to an app on your iPhone or iPad, which can then track your improvement through an individualized training program.
Tired of your typical home office chair? Try out active sitting for yourself with this balance ball chair from Gaiam. It not only provides your back with ergonomic support and proper alignment, but it also helps you strengthen your core while you sit!
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