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Foster good posture to avoid back and neck pain

ALBANY, N.Y. -- "Stand up straight! Don't slouch."

Like many of us, Kate Marchesiello heard those admonishments from her mother while growing up."Posture was important for my mother, not to have rounded shoulders and to hold my head up high and to have a presence when you walk in the room," said Marchesiello, who lives in Glenville, N.Y.

In case your mother hasn't reminded you recently, good posture is still important and especially for adults.

"The No. 1 cause of neck and back pain is poor posture," said Janice Novak, a Minnesota-based health education consultant and author of a new book, "Posture, Get it Straight!"

Today's sedentary lifestyle often aggravates many poor-posture problems.

With many people spending eight or more hours at a desk every day, typing at computers and answering the phone, it's easier than ever to slump and slouch.

"We've become a nation of professional sitters," Novak said. "Everywhere I go, I see people rubbing their neck and shifting in their seats."

Novak tells people that by simply standing up straight, they can instantly slim down their waistline by an inch or more, akin to losing 10 pounds.

"When the upper back slumps forward, it presses the rib cage down on the abdominal organs," she writes. "The belly protrudes, making the waistline appear larger than it is."

Such a stance is not only unattractive, it can also take its toll in other ways, including a gradual loosening and weakening of abdominal and back muscles.

"One of the more common causes of back pain is because our stomach and abdominal muscles are out of shape," said Dr. Robert Leupold, an orthopedic surgeon with Schenectady Regional Orthopedic Associates in upstate New York.

Not all posture problems, however, can be fixed by paying attention to how we stand or sit. In some cases, especially with fast-growing teen-agers, there may be structural problems in the spine that cause a hump or round back and curvature.

Even if you slouched through childhood and haven't given posture a second thought since you left home, Novak emphasizes that it's never too late to make improvements.

"No matter how bad people think their posture is or how long they've had poor posture, they can change it," she said.

If you work at a desk, here are some simple tips:

-- Make sure your computer monitor isn't too low. "Eyes need to be mid-level with the screen," she said.

-- If you're on the phone a lot, invest in a headset. "Keeping the phone receiver between your neck and shoulder will shorten those muscles," she said. "It's all these little things that cause us tremendous problems."

Dist. by New York Time News Service