When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move, and even after numerous chiropractor appointments over the next few months, my lower back and coccyx bone (a.k.a. tailbone) were in bad shape.
I never had terrible posture—until this past year. That's when I made the altruistic decision to start volunteering, and wound up carrying an overweight Lhasa Apso dog named Taffy down six flights of stairs for an elderly woman, throwing my back out in the process.
When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move, and even after numerous chiropractor appointments over the next few months, my lower back and coccyx bone (a.k.a. tailbone) were in bad shape. It would hurt to sit on long plane rides, after a spin class—even after certain, ahem, sexual positions. It was clear that my pain was throwing off my posture, too.
So, when an email popped up in my inbox with the subject line: "Posture Trainer = The New Waist Trainer," I was intrigued. Now, I know that waist trainers can do serious damage to your body, but a posture trainer sounded like the opposite: It had only upsides. I might be able to train my spine not to hate me—and help me avoid a hip replacement at age 33.
So I decided to try out UpRight, a little white stick device that attaches anywhere along your spine where you have agitation via velcro adhesives. The $130 device was invented by Oded Cohen, an engineer, who launched his product on Kickstarter.
The device syncs to your phone with an app (available on iOS and Android), and is equipped with sensors that can read how you sit upright and how you sit slouched. The device then let’s you “train” your posture. That means if you start to slouch, tiny vibrations pulsate along your spine until you sit upright again. The pulses are painless and super slight. So, essentially the opposite of what I was expecting: something along the lines of electric shock therapy.
The app gave me daily notifications about when I should be training, and it checked my posture each time to make sure it was getting better the more I used it. I started training just five minutes a day and moved up from there. Plus, the app gave me a training summary, which told me how much time I was spending sitting upright.
Turns out, it works! (At least, it did for me.) The more I trained, the more I found myself sitting up straight even when I wasn't rocking the gadget. And since it’s designed to be worn for only a short amount of time per day (the aforementioned five minutes), it was pretty easy to commit to.
However, since the device wasn't invented by a doctor (though it does claim to be "medically backed"), I decided to reach out to Luke Greenberg, a physical therapist with MOTIVNY, to see if the therapy seemed legit. Though Greenberg hasn't tried the device, he says that the feedback from something like a posture trainer can be useful, but isn't a cure-all.
"Vibration alone doesn't give specific feedback and the user won't know where to make corrections, or placement of this device in different areas may elicit different results and therefore a lack of reliable feedback or repeatability," he says, noting that people should really consult with a health professional to determine what aspects of their posture are incorrect.
Knowing this trainer wouldn’t solve all of my problems, I turned to Erika Bloom, Pilates expert and founder of Erika Bloom Pilates, who rehabs major athletes.
One of her most helpful tips? Remembering to breathe into my good posture.
“Proper breathing is the secret weapon to good posture. When we inhale, we open up our thoracic spine and lengthen our torso and our vertebral column,” she says. “When we exhale, we engage our deep core muscles that protect our backs and create beautiful alignment and posture.”
So to breathe for better posture, I imagine that I’m filling up a balloon in my lower back as I inhale. On the exhale, I feel like I’m narrowing and lifting my torso like I’m moving up through a straw from the base of my pelvis to the top of my head.
As of now, I wouldn’t say my chronic back pain is gone, but it’s definitely not as bad. The key to not feeling like I want to trade in my body for a new one is consistency. The more I train my posture, and practice my Pilates breathing techniques, the less I feel the aches.
I might not return to volunteer dog walking anytime soon (except for when stairs aren’t required), but at least I no longer feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, either. I have way too many trips and plane rides left to take in life where that just won’t work.