Bad posture is a silent killer – try these simple daily stretches

Posture tweaks
Posture tweaks

Poor posture has become endemic. Whether we’re scrolling on our mobile or spending hours on our laptops we live in a culture where we’re constantly looking down.

According to Matthew Piff, a regional physiotherapy lead at Nuffield Health, “NHS figures show that back pain is the largest single cause of disability in the UK, with lower back pain alone accounting for 11 per cent of the total disability of the UK population”. James Davies, an osteopath and performance coach who works one-to-one with elite athletes, film and television stars, sees the trend everywhere: with his clients, on the street, even in his home.

Slumped spines aren’t just making us all look shorter and less poised. Consistent poor posture builds bad habits within the body, not just on the surface. It’s a serious problem, says Davies. “It’s a silent killer now to have poor posture. If you’re looking down with your shoulders rolled in, you’re not going to be fully breathing in. You won’t be achieving full lung capacity.”

Over time it can lead to an increase in degeneration in our spine, as well as fixing us into bad habits of using secondary muscles: “Instead of using our diaphragm fully, which is the muscle to make us breathe in and maximise our breath, people tense their shoulders when they breath.”

In turn, restricting our inhale has an impact on our gut health. Slouching puts pressure on the abdomen, which can force stomach acid in the wrong direction.

“Many of my patients with poor posture get acid reflux more often, as well as often having other gut issues.”

Unsure what good posture actually means? Feeling light in your body, says Davies. “When you get a massage you come out feeling light and free, right? That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Here are five posture pit stops to try:

Imagine you are a star, and stretch out all your limbs to their furthest points. “That in itself can release a lot of tension,” says Davies.

Do this regularly throughout your day. “As a nation we think you need to do a yoga or Pilates class and that’s the only time we need to stretch out,” says Davies. “We need to change the thought process of everyone.”

You can do this without getting up out of your chair. Interlace your fingers behind the base of your skull, lift your chin slightly and raise your elbows up and back.

“It doesn’t have to be static, you can do a circular motion, with the elbows, or with the upper back.”

The key here is to find a stretch through the thoracic spine. “The thoracic spine’s main function is to support the ribs. But what you find is if your posture is bad in your lower back [the lumbar spine], your mid back [the thoracic spine]  is overworking and load bearing.”

Another stealth reset. Give yourself a big hug, taking your hands to the opposite shoulder with one elbow on top of the other.

“We’re looking to stretch the intercostal muscles between the ribs,” says Davies. “More than ever I’m seeing people getting rib issues. We’re not opening up our ribs enough and we’re breathing too shallow.”

Try bending from side to side in this position too, finding what feels good. “The body is craving movement, so go with it,” says Davies.

Good posture starts with strong feet and ankles and flows upwards from there. With some care and attention, hip and knee replacements aren’t as inevitable as people think.

“Our lower body is important as these are the muscles that stop us falling flat on our faces,” says Davies. “If you’re over exhausted in your calf muscles, then others have to work overtime. And when the brain can’t take it anymore, it gives you pain.”

Stand with your legs as wise as possible, and bend each knee from side to side. You can rest your thighs if needed. “This movement will provide lubrication for our hips and knees and for the ankles,” says Davies.

This one is a little bit more conspicuous. We all know the silly walk that John Cleese performed on Monty Python back in the 1970s. Well it’s not as silly as you might think, according to Davies.

“It can be a great way to loosen the hamstrings and the lumbar spine. If there’s no harmony there and the hamstrings are tight, that puts tension on the lower spine, and vice versa.”

Obviously, if you are very restricted in your movement, you might have to start a lot lower than Cleese. Remember, you’re not auditioning for the Folies Bergère!

“These are guidelines,” cautions Davies. “We should be the best experts of our bodies, and be able to verbalise how we feel. Not just assume that people can suss and sort us out.”