Proper Posture to Prevent Arthritis Pain

We all know that we should use good posture. We've probably been hearing it since we were kids. But if you have arthritis, using good posture is essential not only for protecting your joints and preventing pain but also for conserving energy.

Even while sitting, the incorrect posture can put stress on your joints.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Even while sitting, the incorrect
 posture can put stress on your joints.

As odd as it may sound, you can actually waste energy when you are standing in one place or even sitting motionless -- if you are using improper posture. Although we may not notice until we fall down, our bodies are constantly working against gravity to keep us in an upright position. The skeleton (especially the spine), the muscles, and the ligaments and tendons share the job of holding us up. With improper alignment, however, the balance is thrown off. Certain areas, such as the bones and joints in the lower back, end up having to support more weight than they were designed to support. To compensate, the muscles have to work harder. Eventually, back strain and even injury may result.

The key element of proper posture is maintaining the spine's natural curves. If you looked at your spine from the side, it would look like a somewhat flattened "S." Most often, it's that lower curve of the "S," or the lower back area, that gets abused. We may sit slouched on the couch or over a desk or table, pushing out that lower curve. Or, conversely, we may stand with our knees locked and our shoulders back, exaggerating that lower curve. These postures can stress the muscles and joints of the lower back, cause discomfort, and waste energy.

The following are tips on maintaining proper alignment:

Standing
  • Avoid locking your knees when standing or exercising.

  • Pay attention to your pelvis. When you stand with your abdominal muscles lax, the top of the pelvis tends to tilt forward, causing your stomach to bulge forward and your lower back to arch excessively. To prevent this, keep your abdominals tight and your pelvis tucked so that the top of the pelvis faces upward and your tailbone points directly down to the floor.

  • Keep your upper body lifted. Imagine a string, attached from the ceiling to the top of your head, lifting your head, neck, and shoulders upward. Keep your shoulders relaxed.

  • Alternate standing and sitting whenever possible.

  • If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low stool, step, or book so it is slightly higher than the other foot; alternate feet occasionally. This will help keep the pelvis properly aligned.

  • If you can't keep one foot propped, try shifting your weight from one foot to the other from time to time.

  • For long periods of standing, wear shoes with a low, wide heel to provide stability, maintain better alignment, and increase comfort.
Sitting
  • If possible, use a chair that supports your lower back and helps maintain the slight curve in your lower spine.

  • If your chair does not provide proper back support, tuck a small pillow or rolled up towel between the chair and your lower back to maintain the lower-back curve. The small inflatable pillows sold for travelers can be handy for this purpose. If you're caught in an unsupportive chair without a pillow or towel, try sliding your forearm behind your back to help support your lower back.

  • Sit with your knees slightly higher than your hips and your feet flat on the floor. If necessary, prop your feet on a stool or book to keep your knees at the proper height.

  • Change positions frequently if you must sit for long periods. Stand and stretch occasionally, or at least shift your position in the seat.

  • When getting out of a chair, keep your back straight. Scoot your buttocks forward toward the edge of the seat. Then use your leg and arm muscles to push yourself up out of the chair. If you push off of the arms of the chair, be sure your hands are facing palm down. Reverse the process to sit back down, bending your knees and using your arms and legs to lower yourself into the chair.
Choose Wise Resting Places

To help you maintain proper posture at rest and help ease the strain of getting into and out of a chair or bed, try letting the furniture do some of the work. This can be done either by selecting furniture with specific features or modifying the furniture you already have. Here are some pointers:
  • Seats that are higher than normal will be easier to get into and out of. Get a thick seat cushion or secure your favorite chair to a low platform to increase its height.

  • Prop your bed up on blocks to increase its height.

  • Get a firm, supportive mattress for your bed.

  • Pad hard-bottomed chairs for greater comfort.

  • Look for chairs with sturdy armrests that you can use to raise and lower yourself.

  • Use chairs with relatively straight backs or ones that provide lumbar support. If your current chairs do not support your lower back, consider purchasing a lumbar-support pillow.

  • Consider getting a mechanical chair with a seat that raises you up to a near-standing position at the touch of a button. These tend to be pricey, but depending on your level of disability, you may be able to get some insurance reimbursement.

  • If you have stiffness and pain in your neck, try getting at least one chair that has a neck rest or high back.

  • Chairs with adjustable footrests can help preserve alignment.

  • Place a low, stable stool in the shower to make bathing easier.

  • Check sporting goods or camping stores for foldable, portable chairs to bring along to sporting events and other outings.
Unfortunately, you can't stay seated forever. We all have chores we must perform, whether it's at work or just doing the dishes. In the next section, you will learn how to protect your joints as you go about your day.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.