Living With Polio


Sit up! Stand up straight! Watch your posture! How many times did we hear that from our moms when we were growing up? So often that it probably went in one ear and out the other. But Mom was right after all.

You may think it takes more work to sit or stand upright than to slouch, but the opposite is true. The muscles in your body have to contract to keep you upright against gravity. With your head up, trunk straight and shoulders back, your body balances itself on its own bony framework so the muscles have less work to do. The further you move from this position the more your muscles have to work to keep you from falling forward. Slouching throws your center of gravity forward and forces the back and neck muscles to stay contracted, adding to your fatigue.

Proper posture also maintains the curves in the spine. The spine has three curves: at the neck, mid back, and low back, and these are important for shock absorption. The curves act like a spring and they “give” during impact, such as when walking or going down curbs and steps. Without these curves, any impact or forces on the spine would be transmitted into the joints of the spine. Curves are also important for mobility and flexibility, for rotation, flexion and extension of the spine. Continuous slouching changes these curves, causing less flexibility, less protection, and even spinal compression fractures if you have osteoporosis. Poor posture and limited mobility increase the likelihood of degenerative arthritis in later years. And finally – good posture also allows the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to work more efficiently. Did you have any idea that just straightening up would have so many benefits?

Prolonged standing can also be stressful to the low back even with good posture. If you need to stand for a while and appropriate seating isn’t available, alternate placing one foot up on a small box or stepstool to relieve your low back. For example, if you must stand at the sink, open the bottom cupboard door and alternate placing one foot on the shelf.

Sleep in a position that keeps your back aligned and comfortable. Use pillows to fill the gaps between your body and the mattress.

If your favorite sleeping position is on your back, put pillows under your legs, from the thighs to the ankles, to avoid back strain.

Avoid sleeping on your stomach.

When getting out of bed, roll over onto one side first: Keep your knees together, flatten your abdominal muscles to keep your back from arching, and place your hands on the bed in front of you.

Next, raise your body: Push your upper body off the bed, swinging your legs to the floor. Remember to move your body as a unit and keep your back straight. The weight of your legs will help you move.

Finally, stand up: Lean forward from the hip and roll onto the balls of your feet. Push yourself up using your arm and leg muscles (don’t forget to keep your back from arching). Once you get out of bed, take a moment before walking to make sure you’re not woozy.

© 2008 Grace R. Young
Courtesy of Diane Young and Sharon Lark.

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