You brush your teeth daily because you don’t want cavities or gum disease, right? Well, what do you do on a daily basis to prevent tension in your neck? Brushing your teeth offers you preventive dental care, but what if you could learn to be preventive with the rest of your body?
We all have bad daily habits we don’t even notice until something starts to hurt. These bad habits are the root cause of many painful conditions. To help prevent pain, however, we can turn these bad habits into good habits that can be worked into our daily routine. Here is some general advice that can apply to almost every part of daily living.
Don’t Slouch. Slouching puts strain on your neck and can give you a headache. Your head weighs roughly 10 pounds-about as much as a bowling ball. Your spine is designed to balance that bowling ball when you’re in an upright posture. If you slouch, your muscles have to do more work to hold your head up, which makes your muscles tight and angry.
Sit Up Straight. Sit in a chair with your hands on your hips. Slouch. Feel how your hips roll back (if you’re wearing jeans, you’ll be sitting on your pockets). Now sit up straight by moving your pelvis forward and centering your weight over your pelvis and off your buttocks.
Sleep on Your Back or Side. Sleeping on your stomach makes you twist your neck and body in order to breathe. This twisted position is terrible for your spine, especially for prolonged periods during sleep. Check your pillow and make sure it has a thickness that will support your neck in a position neutral to the rest of your spine. Try a memory-foam contour pillow, especially if you are a side sleeper.
Bend with a Straight Spine. Bending over with a curved back puts pressure on your disc material and strains the spine. The pressure created during incorrect bending can cause the discs to bulge and put pressure on spinal nerves. Your back was not made to lower and raise your body-that’s what your buttocks, hips, and knees are for.
Stand with your knees shoulder-width apart and pretend you are going to lift a 50-pound box off the floor. If you are bending your knees and hips and using your legs to lower and raise your body weight, you are lifting correctly. Now, use the same technique to pick your shoes up off the floor. Think about a squatting movement when you need to lean forward, too-such as while washing your face in the sink. Let your hips and knees do the work.
Take Regular Stretch Breaks. The muscles in your arms and hands get tight when you grip or pull. The muscles in your neck and shoulders get tight when you reach forward or away from your body. Give these muscles a break with a simple stretch.
It only takes 10 seconds to lengthen the tight tissue, which will take pressure off your joints and prevent chronic conditions like tendinitis and bursitis. Watch for opportunities to work in a brief stretch.
Undo Yourself. Evaluate the position of your body during your daily activities and make sure you “undo” that position during the day. There is no way to teach a stretch for every single activity you do, but if you take the time to reverse the position of the joint and stretch in the opposite direction, you will lengthen tight tissue and reduce repetitive strain on joints.
Tips to Save Your BodyReplacing bad habits with good ones takes time and thought, but the effort is well worth it. Here are some helpful tips to keep you on track.
— If you keep waking up on your stomach, wear a pair of gym shorts to bed and put a golf ball in each pocket. When you roll onto your stomach, the golf balls will wake you up and you can return to your back or side.
— When unloading the dishwasher and getting laundry out of the machine, pose like a tennis player waiting for a serve. The knees are over your toes (but not beyond the toes), buttocks are backward, and shoulders are forward.
— Don’t try to carve out 30 minutes daily for a stretching routine. If you stretch regularly throughout the day, you will be more effective at keeping tissue loose. Remember, it only takes 10 seconds to stretch a muscle-so find those seconds during your day and make the most of them.
— Think about stretching the same way you think about hydration. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water; by then you’re already dehydrated. If you wait until something hurts before you stretch, you could develop chronic tension that can lead to everything from a headache to tendinitis.
A daily stretching routine will help prevent future issues and address current ones. Don’t wait until it’s a problem. Start stretching today and, little by little, your body will thank you.
Kelli Crosby is the author of How to Think Like a Physical Therapist in Your Everyday Life. She graduated in 1999 from the University of North Florida and completed her specialty certification in orthopedic manipulative therapy in 2006.