Neutral Posture: Taking Pressure Off Your Spine
As NASA researchers have learned from astronauts, spending more time in neutral spine position can decrease chronic back and neck aches, muscle pain, stiffness and numbness as well as increase your work productivity. Here at Relax The Back, we believe in bringing you products that allow you to achieve a 24-hour neutral spine position, so you may reap its many health and productivity benefits. But first, you'll want to know what neutral posture is and why you need it.
Static Posture vs. Neutral Posture
In our sedentary society, our spines are under constant pressure. We spend most of our daily activities, including sleeping, in a static posture. As a poor posture condition, static posture can create spinal compression, tension and pain throughout our bodies.
In fact, 80% of us experience chronic back and neck pain resulting from working, relaxing and sleeping for many hours in a static posture.
We sit up to 8 hours slouched at our computers or hunched over paperwork at our desk jobs. We spend another 2 or more hours lying on the couch watching television, or stuck in one cramped position while driving or commuting. Our spines fall out of alignment and, instead of our bones supporting our body weight, our muscles are forced to. This puts strain and tension on our muscles and can result in pain and cramps.
Additionally, many of the physical activities we do throughout the day, like lifting and carrying heavy objects incorrectly, can strain and create pressure on our spines. And when we sleep, our mattresses sag and our pillows flatten. Consequently, our necks and spines are not properly supported for at least 6 to 8 hours each night. Unaligned spines during sleep can cause the vertebral discs to compress on, leading to pinching and irritating the nerves surrounding them.
As a result, you can wake up with a stiff or painful neck and lower back, overall muscle tension and even numbness or tingling in your hands and feet.
Benefits of a Neutral Posture
Researchers found that astronauts in space had virtually none of these physical complaints. It was discovered that their bodies naturally assumed a proper spine alignment as they free floated throughout their space capsule's environment.
Researchers discovered that a neutral posture is our body's naturally preferred position. It's a stress-free state in which our body naturally curves our spine.
A neutral posture is similar to the relaxed position we assume floating in water while swimming. A neutral posture puts zero pressure on your spine. It opens all the spaces between your vertebral discs creating an equal space between them.
How to Find Neutral Spine Position
When you're going through your daily activities, spending as much time in proper spine alignment will help improve your health by boosting circulation and reducing stress and tension. When you feel your best at work, you'll also boost your productivity.
Here are some things you can do to help you achieve neutral posture at least two-thirds of your day.
A neutral posture is one in which you maintain a 128-degree angle between your torso and thigh and a 133-degree angle between your hamstrings and calves.
You can achieve this while sitting by doing the following:
- Feet on the floor (or a footrest), don't cross your legs
- Hips slightly higher than your knees with a small gap between your knees and seat
- Lower back is supported
- Head, neck, shoulders, elbows, hips in alignment
- Shoulders relaxed
- Elbows bent at a 100-degree, or more, angle
- Wrists straight
- Fingers slightly curled and relaxed
- Get up to stretch, take a brief walk around every 30 to 60 minutes
Standing with poor posture often causes the most pressure on your spine. You can avoid this by doing the following:
- Let the balls of your feet bear the most of your weight
- Keep your knees slightly bent
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart
- Allow your arms to hang naturally at your side
- Keep your shoulders pulled backward, head level
- Shift your weight from toes to heels in long periods of standing
As mentioned, sleeping on sagging mattresses or pillows can create spinal pressure and result in morning stiffness and pain. Maintaining a good sleep environment with the proper mattress and pillow can help you prevent spinal pressure by helping you achieve proper spine alignment.
The following sleep tips can help you stay in neutral position throughout your sleep time:
- Don't sleep on your stomach. Doing so encourages spinal pressure from lack of support. It also keeps your neck in a twisted position for several hours.
- Use specifically designed bed wedges atop your mattress at the head to elevate your head and one at the foot of your bed to elevate your knees.
- If you like to sleep on your side, use a knee spacer pillow to alleviate pressure on your lower back and relax leg muscles. Knee spacers also take pressure of knee joints to prevent morning stiffness.
- Adjustable bed bases allow you to mechanically elevate the head or foot of your bed to keep your spine in neutral position as well as improve circulation.
- Whole-body pillows help to take pressure off your lower back and support an overweight frame. Especially good for pregnant women or men with larger, pendulous abdomens.
- Lumbar pads help pad the bones, muscles, tissues surrounding the hips and lower back to prevent pressure and pain while sleeping.
- Travel pillows support your neck correctly if you sleep while on a plane, train or bus.
- Memory foam mattresses adjust to your specific body weight and shape and support you throughout the night.
- Memory foam pillows keep your head and neck supported correctly throughout the night to prevent neck strain and pain.
Spending time watching television or reading in a chair can keep you in neutral position when using the right recliner. A zero-gravity reclining chair removes tension from your spine. It elevates your feet to the same level as your heart, relieving strain on your spinal vertebrae from the pull of gravity.
Posture-strengthening exercises will help offset static posture activities you do during the day. Strengthening exercises include core-stabilization to strengthen your torso, pelvis and back muscles.
Try the following strength-building exercises:
- Bridges. Lie with your back flat on the floor, knees bent. Lift your pelvis off the floor 20 reps.
- Planks. Lie prone on the floor, supported by your elbows, hands down, resting on your tiptoes. Hold this position to the count of 20. Extend the count by 10 until you reach 60.
- Back extensions. Lie prone on floor, resting your head on your hands. At the same time, lift your feet/legs and head creating an arch in your lower back. Lower, then repeat 20 reps.
- Side lying leg raises. Lie on your side, point your toes, slowly raise your leg as high as you can. 20 reps, then switch sides.
- Hip flexor stretch. Sit on the floor in a "butterfly" position, legs spread, knees out to side, soles of feet touching in the center. Bounce your hips to the floor and back for several reps, stop, then repeat.
- Standing thigh stretch. Stand with your feet 2-3 shoulder widths apart, your left foot pointed slightly out. Stretch your left foot out, bend knee, your torso bending back onto your right hip. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides, repeat on your right side.
Other general exercises that help strengthen the core and spine include:
- Simple walking. But, be sure to walk with good posture by keeping your shoulders straight, head up and your stomach held toward you.
- Low impact aerobic exercise. Helps elevate your heart rate, improve circulation without putting pressure on the spine. It also relieves stress, muscle tension and stiffness. Low impact exercise includes dancing, walking on a treadmill, using an elliptical, or stair-stepping machine, swimming or bicycling.
Correct movement. Just moving properly throughout your day can help you prevent the strain of poor posture on your spine. Many of us sit, stand, bend forward, stoop and squat throughout the day. It's important to move smoothly and fluidly as you change positions. Avoid sudden jerking, twisting motions of your spine and too-deep squats that put pressure on the lower back, hamstrings and calves.
Maintaining a healthy weight helps your spine, back and neck more than you may realize. A heavy, pendulous abdomen, a heavy rear, or large, pendulous breasts, can pull your spine out of balance, putting strain and tension on neck and back muscles which causes pain.
Too much overall body weight makes it difficult for your body to move fluidly and smoothly, causing you to put strain on lower back, legs and feet.
Maintaining a Neutral Spine for Better Health
Staying in neutral posture most of the day allows your spine to move freely without pressure on vertebral discs. Nerves can then exit between them without becoming pinched or irritated. They're then free to send the proper signals to all the organs of your body, muscles, ligaments and tendons in the correct manner. As a result, you stay healthier and reduce the risk of chronic injury or illness.
Neutral spine position allows your body to perform in the tension-free, fluid movement that nature intended. And, you can go through your day without pain and stiffness, feeling great, enjoying your activities and increasing your productivity.