Bad Posture Back Pain
Having good posture is a simple but very important way to keep the many intricate structures in the back and spine healthy. It’s much more than cosmetic – good posture and back support are critical to reducing the incidence and levels of back pain and neck pain. Back support is especially important for patients who spend many hours sitting in an office chair or standing throughout the day. Posture is the way you hold your body while standing, sitting or performing tasks like lifting, bending, pulling or reaching. If your posture is good, the bones of the spine — the vertebrae — are correctly aligned. The back has three natural curves: a slight forward curve in the neck (cervical curve), a slight backward curve in the upper back (thoracic curve) and a slight forward curve in the low back (lumbar curve). When these curves are in proper alignment, the spine, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are in balance, and body weight is evenly distributed. The payoff is less stress and strain on muscles, joints, and ligaments, and a reduced risk for back, neck, and shoulder pain.
Over time, the stress of poor posture can change the anatomical characteristics of the spine, leading to the possibility of constricted blood vessels and nerves, as well as problems with muscles, discs, and joints. All of these can be major contributors to back and neck pain, as well as headaches, fatigue, and possibly even concerns with major organs and breathing. Poor posture—while sitting, standing, lying down or moving around—is a major cause of back pain. Sitting and standing put considerable pressure on the lower back—in fact, standing exerts up to five times more pressure than lying down, and sitting is even more strenuous. Basically, having correct posture means keeping each part of the body in alignment with the neighboring parts. Proper posture keeps all parts balanced and supported. With appropriate posture (when standing) it should be possible to draw a straight line from the earlobe, through the shoulder, hip, knee, and into the middle of the ankle.
People may find themselves in several positions throughout the day (sitting, standing, bending, stooping and lying down) it’s important to learn how to attain and keep correct posture in each position for good back support, which will result in less back pain. When moving from one position to another, the ideal situation is that one’s posture is adjusted smoothly and fluidly. After initial correction of bad posture habits, these movements tend to become automatic and require very little effort to maintain. Maintaining good posture involves training your body to move and function where the least strain is placed on bones, joints and soft tissues.
To help evaluate your posture, look at yourself in a full-length mirror. The classic signs of poor posture are a potbelly, rounded shoulders, and a jutted-out neck and chin (known as a forward head position). Other signs of poor posture include slumped or protruding abdomen, excessive curve in the lower back (swayback) and a caved-in appearance to the chest, as well as back and neck pain and headaches.
4 Steps To Good Posture
You can improve your posture by practicing some imagery and a few easy and quick exercises.
- Imagery. Think of a straight line passing through your body from ceiling to floor (your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be even and line up vertically). Now imagine that a strong cord attached to your breastbone is pulling your chest and rib cage upward, making you taller.
- Chin tuck. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed and down. Hold your head upright. Pull your chin in toward your neck.
- Abdominal pull-in. Stand or sit. Inhale; then exhale slowly to a count of five, pulling your lower abdominal muscles up and in, as if moving your belly button toward your backbone.
- Shoulder blade squeeze. Sit up straight in a chair with your hands resting on your thighs. Keep your shoulders down and your chin level. Slowly draw your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Upper-body stretch. Stand facing a corner with your arms raised, hands flat against the walls, elbows at shoulder height. Place one foot ahead of the other. Bending your forward knee, exhale as you lean your body toward the corner. Keep your back straight and your chest and head up.
What Good Posture Can Do For You
- Optimize breathing and circulation
- Maintain the bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly and efficiently
- Helps reduce or prevent the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative diseases, such as arthritis
- Decrease the stress on the soft tissues, such as ligaments, muscles, tendons and discs
- Prevent fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy
- Prevent the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions
- Prevent postural strain or overuse problems
- Prevent muscle fatigue
- Contributes to a healthy image or appearance
- Improves organ function
- Reduces tension and pain in neck, shoulders and back
- Increases concentration and mental performance
- Prevents humped shoulders
- Increases height
- Prevents “pot belly”
- Increased confidence
More Tips For Maintaining Good Posture
Many simple lifestyle changes can help improve your posture and reduce back pain.
- Be mindful of your posture throughout the day, and realign yourself regularly.
- To prevent muscle fatigue, avoid staying in one position for a long time.
- When standing for long periods try resting one foot on a low ledge, stool, or box.
- If you prefer slow, gentle, physical activity, try t’ai chi or aquatic exercises to improve your posture, strength, and balance.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Wear comfortable shoes that offer good support.
- Hold reading material at eye level.
- Sleep on a firm, comfortable mattress.
- Exercise regularly to promote strong abdominal and back muscles.
- If you have any concerns about your posture, consider a session with a physical therapist trained to evaluate posture.
By continuing to have bad posture, you open yourself up to a whirlwind of problems. Our spines were meant to be in a certain order with certain curves in certain directions. Our joints are constructed in a certain manner to allow us to function as best as we can. Most of what we do makes us crouch forward into this fetal position (ie. driving, texting, playing video games, typing on the computer, etc.) which over stretches most of our back muscles and tightens and shortens most of our front muscles. This makes that posture best designed for optimum function to lack, which causes degeneration within our bodies. Remind yourself to fix your posture, and you will begin to reteach your body how to hold itself. If you’re sitting, sit up straight. If it hurts after 5 minutes, keep doing it. Remind yourself to do it as much as you can. The main reason it hurts is because you’re not used to it. By continuing to sit and stand in better posture, you will strengthen the muscles that have been weakened by years of malpractice.