If you’re anything like me, just reading the word ‘posture’ prompts you to snap your shoulders back with military precision.
We all know it’s important to stand and sit up straight, but it’s very easy to forget to do this when you’re not getting constant reminders from your mum (or if you’re not a professional dancer).
So we end up slumping back in our office chairs, rolling our shoulders forward while Facebook stalking, and throwing out our hips while queuing for our morning lattes.
As well as making you look a bit odd, poor posture can have some nasty short, and long-term, effects on your body. It can give you headaches, weaken your muscles, hinder your circulation, and cause pain in your back, neck, chest and shoulders.
Unfortunately, there are things messing with your posture that you aren’t even aware of. Let’s walk through them.
1. Your emotions
It's not just physical objects and environments that impact on how you hold yourself. You know how when you're feeling really afraid, your body immediately recoils? Any negative, stressful emotion can cause that rigidity in your body without you realising.
"If someone is stressed or angry, straight away that causes an increase in tension in their muscular system... and if you're constantly in a position to have those emotions, you're going to get an overload of muscle tension," explains Colin Phillips, physiotherapist and director of Go Health Online.
"Sometimes we will see patients who come in with neck pain, shoulder pain and headaches, and we can treat them all day but that won't solve the problem. The issue is a stressful environment - a home environment, a work environment, that's what they really need to address."
If you're regularly stressed or anxious, it's probably a good idea to book an appointment with your GP. (Post continues after video.)
2. Your gadgets
Technology is unavoidable these days. Many of us rely on phones, tablets and computers in both our jobs and daily lives — but it's how we use them, and how long for, that influences how we sit or stand. Hands up if you're still glued to your iPhone screen 20 minutes after getting in bed? Yeah, that'll do it.
Phillips says his clients often don't realise how long they use their gadgets on a typical day until they go back and look at their activity log; some spend up to two hours on their phone alone.
There are a few easy measures that can offset any negative impacts on your posture. For instance, talking on the phone while it's squished between your ear and your shoulder isn't great for your neck, so Phillips recommends buying a headset instead.
As for the classic 'hunched' pose we all adopt when texting or Instagramming — nicknamed "tech neck" — Phillips says there isn't really an alternative position to adopt. Instead, look at whether you can cut down on the activities you use your phone for.
"For me, using a phone is for a quick, short amount of time, and for anything longer you should be using a desktop or an iPad. So if you're looking at a YouTube video and it's 40 minutes long, your phone is probably not the best place to look at it. It's also not ideal for answering long-winded emails - it's okay to check emails and give a quick 'yes' or 'no'," he says.
3. Your eyes
If you're someone who's always hunching forward while looking at your phone or desktop, it could signal a problem with your vision.
"Getting an eye test is something we recommend a lot, because people are struggling to see the screens in front of them and they're pulling their heads forward, which causes headaches and poor posture. In some cases they've never had an eye test and that can then solve the problem because they'll read in a different position," Phillips says.
It might also be worth adjusting the size of the text on your gadgets — it might feel daggy, but going even one size up could save you from a lot of squinting and hunching.
4. Your shoes
Sorry in advance, stiletto mavens — you're not going to like this one.
According to The Conversation, your beloved heels can change the alignment of your feet, legs and back, and make your whole body less stable by raising the height of its centre of mass. In order to maintain balance and remain upright, muscles in various parts of your body, including your back, are forced to work harder and work differently.
Colin Phillips understands it's sometimes necessary for women to wear heels but he recommends limiting how long you wear them for. "When you're not doing that presentation, wear some comfortable shoes. At least on the way to work," he says. (Post continues after gallery.)
5. Your handbag
Shoes, handbags — it's the ones we love that hurt our posture the most. Lovely as they are to look at, handbags can put a lot of pressure on one side of the body, which can throw out your posture long-term.
"What I simply recommend is when you're choosing a handbag, maybe choose one that can go across the body — so it's on your left shoulder but you carry it on your right hip. That should distribute the weight a little bit better," Phillips says.
The good news, of course, is that backpacks are experiencing a fashun renaissance right now. There are plenty of cool, affordable designs around that won't make you look like a pre-schooler or a hiker, and your posture will love you for it — as long as you use both of the straps, rather than just throwing your pack over one shoulder. Because that just defeats the purpose.
6. Your office
Okay, you're probably aware that spending eight (or nine... or ten...) hours perched at your desk is killing your posture, unless you make a conscious effort to work on it.
There are a lot of factors at play here: the height of your computer screen, how you adjust your chair and the position of your feet all contribute to your seated position. Throw stress and concentration into the mix, and it's no surprise you can find yourself doing the full Quasimodo over your keyboard. (Post continues after gallery.)
Phillips says an easy way to prevent bad office posture is to regularly get up from your desk and move around. It can be easy to forget this when you're engrossed in your work, so try playing a little trick on yourself: keep a glass of water on your desk to drink throughout the day, and keep filling it up.
That way, you'll need to pee a lot — which requires you to leave your desk and walk to the bathroom. Or just try to remember to move.
If your office equipment is particularly poor and contributing to bad posture, Phillips says you have every right to ask for a replacement.
"If you need a new chair, tell your manager... it's a legal requirement to have a proper work environment. You should be supplied with decent chairs and screens by your employer," he explains.
"If you're sitting in a bad position for 40 hours a week that's going to have a long term effect on your body, which is going to cause more chronic conditions, which leads to more sick days from work, which will end up costing more for your work."
Do you worry about your posture?