I first developed painful knots in my upper back and shoulders during high school. At the time I chalked it up to twice-daily swim practice, but my sore back continued to plague me long after I’d quit swimming. Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of remedies, from acupuncture to foam rollers to deep tissue massage; while the treatments helped a bit, it took me a while to get to the root of my problems: my terrible posture.
Your mom probably always told you to sit up straight, and for good reason! Good posture has been linked to higher self-esteem and energy levels. Plus, standing up straight makes you look taller, leaner, and more confident…something that not even the fanciest designer clothing can achieve!
Looking around my school library, it’s clear that I’m not the only one suffering from less-than-ideal posture. As students, we spend so much time hunched over our books and laptops, and it might be affecting you in more ways than you notice. Although there are a lot of factors that might cause back pain, slouching is a commonplace problem that luckily can be resolved. Here are some of the ways I’ve been working on improving my own posture:
This might sound obvious, but the first step is to think about it! If you’ve been slouching for most of your life, your muscles have been trained to stay in that hunched-over position. The first few weeks will definitely be tough: it will feel unnatural to pull your shoulders back and hold your head high. Remember that improving posture is not going to happen overnight. I’ve been on my own quest to sit up straighter for several months now and I still find myself slumping into bad habits (literally) from time to time. But trust me, it gets easier! Eventually, it’ll become your new normal and you won’t have to think about it.
Recruit a friend to remind you to sit up straight when they notice you slouching. Even better, remind each other!
Adjust Your Screen Height
I think most of us are guilty of hunching over our laptops. It’s pretty difficult not to! Make it easier on your shoulders and spine by investing in a laptop stand, or just put it on top of a stack of textbooks so it’s at eye level.
Also, make sure to adjust the height of your chair! Ideally, your knees should be at a 90 degree angle and your feet flat on the floor. Your forearms should rest comfortably on the desk while you type, and the screen should be at eye level. Personally, if I’m going to be working on a long paper, I prefer to use the desktop computers at the school library. The larger screen means I don’t have to lean in to see what I’m doing and I can make all of the aforementioned adjustments because the desktop monitor is elevated above the keyboard.
Use a Book Stand
Okay, sometimes I feel like a bit of a dork when I pull this $12 book stand out of my bag at coffeeshops, but it’s a serious neck-saver! The human head is pretty darn heavy; give your neck a break! Plus, I feel like it’s easier to focus on a boring textbook when it’s at eye level. You can also use it to hold up cookbooks!
Give the Phone a Rest
Remember what I just said about giving your neck a break? Chances are, you hold your phone in your lap while you text (not that you guys would ever check your phone during class…) All that neck-craning can really add up.
When you’re using your phone, try to hold it at chest height or higher, and hold it about a foot away from your body so that you can look down at the screen just by moving your eyes and not your entire head. (Bonus arm workout!)
Unload Your Bookbag
I’m definitely guilty of overstuffing my purses. What if I need that textbook today? What if I suddenly get my period? What if my phone runs out of battery? Before I know it, my tote bag easily weighs 20 pounds.
If you find yourself in a similar dilemma, first try to pare it down to the essentials. (I know, I know, it’s really hard!) If you’re using a tote bag, try switching shoulders periodically so you don’t end up with overworked muscles on either side.
You also might consider switching to a backpack, messenger bag, or a tote with wider straps, all of which will help to distribute the weight better.
You’re hours into a chemistry cramming sesh at the library. Your eyes are bleary, your back is killing you, and you feel stiff as a board. Give yourself a breather so you can take a lap around the library and stretch it out.
You don’t have to be a yogi to benefit from stretches; we’re not talking contortion here, just a few basic stretching moves to help loosen things up. Elle has a great list of stretches that can be done right at your desk. Oftentimes, tension builds up in our bodies and we don’t even notice until we stretch and get that aaaaaaah moment.
What did you think?
Do you have bad posture and back pain? What do you do to combat it? Let us know in the comments!