Most of us have memories of a parent, grandparent or teacher scolding us, “Sit up straight!” In this case, all that nagging is beneficial. Good posture truly is important from a medical standpoint. 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 properly, 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 and unfortunately, it’s often painful.
7 Common Health Conditions Caused by Poor Posture
The seven most common health issues connected to poor posture include some surprises.
1. Neck and Back Pain
“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.
“Long-term poor posture degenerates past pain in the joints to the formation of osteoarthritis. The cartilage wears out between the joints from the constant friction and abnormal pressure, causing the bones to rub together when moving and creating pain,” warns a recent article published by USA Today.
5. Jaw Pain and TMJ
When you slouch, your spine, neck, shoulders and temporomandibular joints 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 a variety of reasons, can result in muscles or even organs that are unable to function as they should.
7. Rib Compression and Breathing Issues
When your posture is poor, your body often hunches forward, which restricts your rib cage and puts pressure on your diaphragm. Over time, this can make it difficult for your rib cage to fully expand, causing shortness of breath.
How to Fix Bad Posture
The good news is that poor posture can be corrected in most cases. 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 mattress 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. They are similar to a back brace. Some are designed intentionally to be mildly uncomfortable when you slouch to remind you to sit up straight at all times. Online reviews are very mixed with some users swearing by the effectiveness of posture correctors while others complain they are painful and don’t work. If you are considering purchasing a posture corrector, be sure to consult with your doctor first for guidance.
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 a slight 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.
And of course, be mindful of your posture. If you’re not sure if your posture is problematic, but you’re experiencing any of the health conditions listed above, contact a spine and neck specialist at MOSH. Your doctor will asses your spine and posture habits and provide personalized recommendations to improve your overall health. Until then, sit up straight.