Having good posture is essential, as it helps you look your best. Not to mention correct posture helps prevent back pain.
According to studies, chronic low back pain affects 23% of adults worldwide. Common factors linked to back pain are infections of the spine, sports-related injuries, and accidents. However, bad posture might be the reason you’re struggling with shoulder pain, lower back pain, and neck strain.
So, how do you avoid bad posture and improve your spine health?
Let’s explore what posture is, how it affects spine health, and tips to improve your posture.
What is Posture?
Posture is the way you hold your body while sitting, standing, lying down, bending, or lifting heavy objects.
Good posture ensures your back forms three curves, in a well-balanced and aligned position. These spine curves are;
- Thoracic curve- a slight backward curve in the chest or upper back.
- Cervical curve-a forward curve in the neck.
- Lumbar curve – a slight forward curve seen in the lower back.
Proper alignment of these curves keeps the shoulders, spine, hips, ankles, and knees balanced. When you sit or stand in the correct alignment, your body weight is distributed equally, reducing strain on the spine’s muscles, ligaments, and joints.
How Poor Posture Affects Spine Health
What is bad or poor posture?
Think of bad posture as sitting at your office desk with slumped shoulders and a forward head carriage (tech neck) or sitting on a bed while working on your laptop.
These postures might not seem harmful, but they cause imbalances in the spine. Some muscles in the back overstretch and weaken. Other muscles become short and strained, resulting in pain and discomfort.
When the tendons and muscles in the spine are not working together efficiently, your body uses a lot of energy to stay upright. Your immune system also works hard to heal strained muscles, causing inflammation that can lead to arthritis in joints near the spine. Signs of incorrect posture are rounded shoulders, poking chin or forward head position and pot belly.
Negative Effects of Bad Posture on Your Spine
Bad postural habits, like slouching and hunching forward, often lead to spine imbalance. That’s because the bodyweight the spine carries is unevenly distributed.
Your spine’s effort to support your body weight causes an abnormal strain on spinal joints, back muscles, and spinal discs, leading to various spine problems, such as;
1. Herniated Disc
Standing or sitting in a reclined position or hunching forward can cause strain in the spine. Over time, excessive strain in various parts of the spine lead to herniated discs.
In simple terms, a herniated disc occurs when the soft part of the spinal disc pushes out through a rupture or tear in the tough exterior.
When the bulged or protruding part of the spinal disc presses against a nerve near the spine, it leads to severe pain, numbness, and weakness. Herniated discs can occur anywhere on the spine, but they are more common on the lumbar spine (lower back) and cervical spine or neck.
Symptoms of herniated discs in the lower back include pain, tingling, numbness, and burning sensation from the buttocks to the leg and other instances into the foot. These symptoms may worsen when standing, sitting, or walking, leading to leg and low back pain.
The symptoms of herniated discs in the cervical spine include nerve compression in the neck, associated with dull and sharp pain. Sometimes, you’ll feel pain between your shoulder blades. The pain, numbness, or tingling might move to the arm, hands, or fingers.
2. Strained Upper Back Muscles and Neck
Poor postures, such as slumped shoulders and forward head carriage, cause strain in the upper back muscles and neck. These positions force the upper muscles on the spine and neck to work harder to support your head. The payoff is increased muscle strains and unbearable migraines.
Correcting bad posture can help prevent or relieve migraines caused by muscle tension around the head and back of the neck. However, you may require an effective treatment option like Botox injection if you experience migraines after fixing poor posture.
Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma says Botox injection is ideal for preventing chronic migraines. Mainly because it prevents migraines even before they start.
3. Back Pain
Chronic back pain is the most common spinal health issue linked to poor posture. Bad posture places unnecessary pressure on the lower and upper sections of the spine.
Excessive strain on your spine causes disc degeneration, weakening the back muscles. Note that disc degeneration occurs when the discs in the vertebrae thin out and lose their ability to absorb shock (cushioning).
Usually, disc degeneration occurs as you age, but it can occur due to increased strain on the spine, leading to pain and discomfort in the lower and upper back. Weakened back muscles also affect your balance, thus increasing the risk of falling and injury.
4. Change in spinal structure
Changes in spinal structure occur when your spine curves to the side. A slight deformity in the spine alters your appearance, causes severe back pain, and limits mobility.
Leaning on one side of the chair for prolonged periods is an example of poor posture that might alter the spine structure. This sitting position causes scoliosis (a condition that forces the spine to curve to the side).
Hunching forward causes kyphosis, a spinal deformity seen when your spine curves outward. Kyphosis makes your lower back appear straight instead of curved. You might also have a hunched-back appearance when walking, standing, or sitting.
Causes of Poor Posture
Poor postural habits develop over time while performing daily activities, like walking, lying down, sleeping, gardening, standing, or even sitting. These everyday habits are:
- Sitting in your office chair with your shoulders slumped and your head tilted forward.
- Typing on your laptop while sitting on the bed.
- Hunching forward while walking, sitting, or washing the dishes for a long time
- Putting all your body weight on one leg when standing
- Wearing high heels for long hours makes your spine sway in an unnatural way when you walk or stand.
- Carrying heavy bags on one shoulder
- Crossing your legs while sitting can be comfortable, but this posture makes the pelvis tilt, causing pain in the lower back.
- Sleeping on your stomach
- Bending your back forward when lifting heavy objects
- Living a sedentary lifestyle or not engaging in any physical activity
If you have developed any of these incorrect postures, there’s a likelihood you will experience chronic back pain, shoulder strain, and neck pain or discomfort.
The good news is you can fix bad posture and improve your spine health.
Tips to improve your posture
The key to fixing incorrect posture is understanding the basics of holding your body, whether moving or still.
1. Correct posture when standing
Instead of standing in a rigid or stiff posture, be flexible when standing and keep your;
- back straight
- shoulders relaxed backwards
- tummy in
- knees in
- balance your weight on the balls of both feet
- your head should be leveled up
- make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart
- your arms should hang down on the sides naturally
2. Correct posture when sitting
- Sitting upright with your back pressed against the chair to prevent hunchback.
- Don’t cross your legs. Instead, keep your feet pressed on the floor or use a footrest.
- Keep your shoulders tall and relaxed.
- Keep your head leveled and in line with the spine.
- Your knees level should align with the hips.
- Keep your elbows bent 90-120 degrees close to your body.
- Take breaks frequently to stretch your muscles or walk around. Doing so helps release tension in the spine, muscles, and joints.
3. Correct posture when walking
- Walk tall
- Don’t droop your shoulders
- Your head should be above the shoulders, and looking forward
- Land on your heels when stepping
- Let your torso twist, and arms swing naturally
4. Posture when lifting
- Avoid bending with your back forward
- Keep your knees bent and chest forward and lifted
- Use your hips to lift objects and change directions
- Don’t strain your lower back when bending to pick or lift heavy items
- Keep the objects you’re lifting close to the body
Other ways to improve posture;
- Engaging in physical activities, like planks, yoga, doorway stretch, wall sit, and chest stretch.
- Maintaining a healthy weight reduces pressure in the pelvis and spine, thus preventing back pain.
- Working on surfaces that are at a comfortable height.
- Wearing low-heeled shoes.
- Adjusting your monitor so you aren’t straining to look up or down.
How you sit, stand, or walk impacts your spine and overall health significantly. It is, therefore, crucial to maintain good posture to improve your spine health. Proper posture reduces strain on the spine and prevents lower and upper back pain. If you have been struggling with back pain, shoulder strain or neck pain, it’s time to correct your posture. You can achieve correct posture by being mindful of how you sit, walk, lift items, and lie down.