Bad posture. Everyone has done it. Whether you are popping a hip out to hold your kid, slouching on the couch in front of the tv, or hunched over your phone or computer, everyone practices bad posture at least some of the time, if not all the time.
At first, not standing up straight feels more comfortable, right? But here’s the thing. A bad posture can be part of the reason why your back hurts. Improving your posture can be a matter of just a few simple steps.
Some signs of bad posture are visible, including rounded or sloped shoulders, a hunched back, a potbelly, and a tendency to jut your head forward. Other symptoms of bad posture include back pain, body pain, muscle fatigue, and headache (1).
What is posture?
When you were younger, you were often told to sit or stand up straight. In those days, this may mostly have been a matter of good decorum. However, good posture is not just a matter of manners. It is much more than that.
Posture refers to the way in which your body is positioned when you are sitting, moving, or standing. Apart from being vital for your movement and comfort, a good posture means that your muscles and ligaments are not working harder than they should (2).
Posture helps keep your body erect. It can also, to some degree, ensure proper breathing, muscle growth, and movement (3). Additionally, it can help alleviate body pain.
Poor posture can affect your health overall, and set you up for neck and shoulder strain, back pain, and joint damage. This is why practising good posture is important.
There is an aesthetic aspect to good posture as well. That hunched back and pot belly may just go away once you start sitting and standing up straight and stop slouching.
What does posture have to do with back pain?
Back pain can be brought on by trauma, such as a sports-related injury or accident or by an inherited condition like scoliosis.
However, back pain can often be due to normal wear and tear that occurs in the joints over the course of everyday activities. This is where posture plays a part in back pain.
Stooped posture, or in other words, a posture that does not provide proper support for your body, can cause the weight load on your back to be unevenly dispersed, thus pushing your back’s muscles, ligaments, and discs beyond their capacity, causing pain (5).
Sitting incorrectly at a makeshift home office desk can also put a lot of strain on the movement of your muscles. Leaning down hunched over a laptop uses groups of muscles that were designed for movement, rather than your postural muscles (as the name suggests).
Your postural muscles are the core stability muscles, which hold you together and upright with very little effort.
Hunching while standing or sitting can cause your back and abdominal muscles to become strained as the weight of your body is improperly distributed. This can also reduce blood supply to these muscles, leaving them stiff and sore over time (6).
Likewise, working on your laptop or reading on your stomach can cause strain on your neck, shoulders, and lower back.
Lifting heavy objects or other weight-bearing activities with improper posture can cause a herniated disc. This can send sharp pains from your spinal nerves to your legs.
How to fix your posture and back pain?
Improving your posture is not an overnight fix. Good posture is an acquired habit.
Fixing your posture involves training your body to sit, stand, lift heavy objects, and lie down in a manner that imposes the least strain on your muscles and ligaments (7). This can go a long way in alleviating back pain.
Here are some tips on how to fix your posture:
1. Exercise (8)
Exercises that strengthen your core muscles (the muscles in your abdomen and lower back that provide stability and balance) can go a long way in improving posture.
Additionally, exercises that strengthen your shoulders can prevent you from rolling your shoulders forward (say goodbye, sloped shoulders!).
Here are some exercises to try. How many repetitions you try and how many of the exercises you can do in one session, will depend on your fitness level. Whilst it is good to feel a little out of your comfort zone, do not strain yourself and stop if you ever feel pain. If you are unsure, please ask an expert.
Lie on your stomach. Extend your arms out over your head (like you are Superman flying through the air).
Simultaneously raise your arms and legs just a few centimetres off the ground. Hold, relax, and repeat.
Standing on all fours, reach away from your body with an opposing arm and leg combination, whilst engaging the muscles in your limbs and stomach.
Hold this position for a second before bringing the limbs slowly back down to rest. Do the same, with the other opposing arm and leg. Repeat this sequence.
Hold an exercise band in front of you at shoulder height. Stretch the band across your chest, bending your arms slightly.
Ensure to keep your shoulder blades engaged and pull down your back so your shoulders do not hunch. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted firmly on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest or place them gently behind your head for support.
Keeping your neck straight and in alignment with your back, lift your shoulders up off the floor and then back down in a controlled manner. Repeat.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet placed hip-width apart, and your arms flat on the ground, almost touching your ankles. Push your hips up into the air, by squeezing your buttocks together.
Use the support of your arms on the floor to avoid any pressure on the lower back, and keep your legs in line with your body. Hold this position for a second before lowering.
Get into plank position with your forearms on the floor, elbows positioned directly under your shoulders, and toes on the floor (like you are about to do a push-up, but on your forearms).
Keep your back straight without letting your hips sag toward the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Rest. Repeat.
Sit comfortably with your shoulders pulled back. Clasp your hands gently behind your head. Press your head firmly back into your hands. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Perform this exercise multiple times to build strength.
You can also try a variation by moving your head from side to side, or up and down, slowly, pausing and slightly stretching at the end of the movement arc.
2. Pay attention to your desk setup
Adjusting how you sit at your desk can help improve your posture. Stooped posture is often a result of hunching over to look at a computer screen or mobile phone. Set up a home office where your screen is at your eye level so you are not looking down all day.
Your hands and keyboard should be at elbow height, and your chair should help you to sit up straight and support your lower back.
All this is easier said than done, but if it looks like you will be working from home for the long- term, investing in a keyboard, mouse, and an ergonomic chair could help your body cope with all that time sitting down, in the long run.
3. Sit well
Channel your teacher telling you to stop slouching! Here’s how to sit properly. Sit with your back straight and shoulders pulled back.
Both feet should be firmly planted on the floor and your knees kept at a 90° angle. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both hips (9).
4. Lift well
When lifting objects, keep your back straight and bend at your knees and hips. Never bend forward at the waist to pick heavy objects up. Another tenet of lifting well is to keep the object in question as close to your body as possible.
This can mean sliding an object to the edge of a table before lifting it or standing close to an object on the ground that you are about to lift. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground and at a shoulder-width stance when you pick things up (10).
5. Sleep well
Select a mattress with proper support. Pick pillows that keep your neck in neutral alignment with your back when you sleep. Avoid falling asleep on the couch for the night.
This can leave you with a crick in your neck or back. Instead, head to bed for a night’s rest that will leave you moving freely and happily in the morning.
With improved posture and a stronger core, you will be helping hold your body in a way that is less likely to induce back pain.
If you are experiencing an aching back from sore muscles or ligaments, Iodex UltraGel can help you get back on your feet faster.
With a potent anti-inflammatory ingredient, it fights pain, reduces inflammation, and accelerates your recovery, so you can get back to doing what is important (like picking up your toddler with more ease!) (11).
1 and 2. Better Health Channel. Posture. Available from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ conditionsandtreatments/posture Accessed Nov 2016
3. “What Is Posture?” Sanford Health. https://news.sanfordhealth.org/orthopedics/what-is-posture/ Accessed Nov 2020
4. “Poor Posture Hurts Your Health More Than You Realize: 3 Tips for Fixing It” Health Essentials, Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/poor-posture-hurts-your-health-more-than-you-realize-3-tips-for-fixing-it/ Accessed Nov 2020
5 and 6. “Is Poor Posture Causing Your Back Pain?” Spine-health. https://www.spine-health.com/blog/poor-posture-causing-your-back-pain Accessed Nov 2020
7. “Back Health and Posture” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4485-back-health-and-posture Accessed Nov 2020
8. Poor Posture Hurts Your Health More Than You Realize: 3 Tips for Fixing It” Health Essentials, Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/poor-posture-hurts-your-health-more-than-you-realize-3-tips-for-fixing-it/ Accessed Nov 2020
9. Back Health and Posture” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4485-back-health-and-posture Accessed Nov 2020
10. “Back Health and Posture” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4485-back-health-and-posture Accessed Nov 2020
11. Voltaren Global CSS Pg 20, 27 and Topical Gels p.67
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