Surprisingly, anyone who told us to “sit up straight” was right. Poor posture creates several medical problems, from back pain to digestion issues. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “good posture is about more than standing up straight so you can look your best. It is an important part of your long-term health. Making sure that you hold your body the right way, whether you are moving or still, can prevent pain, injuries, and other health problems.”
Posture, good or bad, is all about your spine and how it’s positioned when standing, walking, sitting, lying down, and even sleeping. Akin to architecture, when your spine is positioned correctly, it acts as a load-bearing beam. It distributes weight, stress, and pressure appropriately to ligaments and muscles. Your spine also impacts how joints function and works as a support structure for the nervous system. When bad posture becomes a chronic problem—due to bad habits or an underlying medical condition—the rest of your body can pay the price.
Common Health Conditions Caused by Poor Posture
Can poor posture cause back pain? Absolutely. The effects of bad posture encompass more than just pain, however. Here are the most common and surprising health issues connected to poor posture.
1. Neck and Back Pain
Bad sitting posture can lead to acute and chronic back pain. Neck pain (sometimes called “text neck”) can also result from neck/spine misalignment while looking at mobile devices. “One rule of thumb is that for every inch that the head is held forward in poor posture, an additional 10 pounds of weight is felt on the cervical spine,” cites Spine-health.com. When added weight is applied to the cervical spine, pain in the neck and back often becomes acute.
2. Pinched Nerves
One of the most painful conditions associated with poor posture is a pinched nerve. “A pinched nerve may be caused by or made worse by poor posture. Sitting or standing with an incorrect posture for extended periods puts unnecessary stress on the body, which may damage the spine and muscles, leading to a pinched nerve,” writes MedicalNewsToday.com. Anything that narrows the spinal canal can cause a pinched nerve, which presents as pain, numbness, and even sleeplessness.
3. Headaches and Migraines
Tension headaches are triggered by muscle tightness, which can occur when posture is not ideal. Likewise, the American Posture Institute reports that bad posture can place stress on your brainstem, causing migraine headaches.
Poor posture affects the body because there are misalignments, especially in the spine and joints. These misalignments cause pressure and friction that wear down the cartilage and force the bones to rub together. This happens when chronic, long-term poor posture moves past pain in the joints to osteoarthritis.
5. Jaw Pain and TMJ
When you slouch, your spine, neck, shoulders, and temporomandibular joints (TMJ) in your jaw are out of alignment. This can result in tension on your jaw, affect your bite, and cause popping, clicking, locking, and pain.
6. Constipation, Heartburn, and Slowed Digestion
Harvard Medical School warns that poor posture, for various reasons, can result in muscles or even organs that are unable to function as they should. For example, bad posture on the toilet can result in constipation. Eating while hunched over can disrupt the flow of natural digestive acids in the stomach and create GERD or acute heartburn, while the pressure on the abdomen when slouching likely creates tension in the digestive tract.
7. Rib Compression and Breathing Issues
When your posture is poor, your body often hunches forward, restricting your rib cage and putting pressure on your diaphragm. Over time, this can make it difficult for your rib cage to expand, causing shortness of breath entirely.
How to Fix Poor Posture
The good news is that bad posture can be corrected easily and without surgery in most cases. Here are some tips to alleviate bad posture symptoms.
Stop slouching. Always sit and stand tall. Your ears should sit in the middle of your shoulders and when possible, pull your shoulder blades slightly down your back with your sternum out. When sleeping, make sure you have a proper mattress. If your bed is too soft, it can exacerbate posture problems. If you sleep on your side, bend your knees slightly. Pillows are beneficial only if they support your head so that it’s level with your spine.
Taking a yoga class can provide instruction and reinforcement from a teacher who can see where you might have alignment and support issues. Yoga can also help to strengthen core muscles, which supports the spine and inherently improves posture. Strengthening your abdominal muscles through exercise, in general, is essential to improving posture.
Your breathing can also impact posture. Taking deeper breaths from your diaphragm can help improve posture and prevent rib compression. “A slow, steady breathing pattern enhances core stability, helps improve tolerance to high-intensity exercise, and reduces the risk of muscle fatigue and injury,” advises healthline.com.
Try diaphragmatic breathing exercises three to four times a day as advised by the University of Georgia. Lie on your back, breathe slowly through your nose. Place your hand on your abdomen so that you can feel your diaphragm moving. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you exhale through your lips.
It is also possible to buy devices known as posture correctors. Typically, such products gently apply pressure to the front of your shoulders, pulling them back to prevent slouching. Some are designed intentionally to be mildly uncomfortable when you slouch to remind you to sit up straight at all times. If you consider purchasing a posture corrector, be sure to seek medical advice from your doctor first.
Protect Your Spine
Your spine protects you, and in turn, you need to protect it. If you need to lift a heavy object, stand with your feet wide and slightly bend at the hips and knees. Squat down and grab the object. Tighten your belly as you lift and keep your back flat. Keep the heavy object close to your body. Don’t hold your breath.
Eat healthy foods containing plant-based proteins and calcium. Foods like salmon and avocado are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit the spine.
MOSH Can Help Alleviate Poor Posture Pain
Be mindful of your posture. If you’re experiencing pain from poor posture that’s disrupting your active lifestyle, contact a spine and neck specialist at MOSH. Your doctor will assess your spine and posture habits and provide personalized recommendations to improve your overall health.