Poor Posture Can Cause Back Pain, Neck Pain, and Other Problems
Have you checked your posture in a mirror lately? Try it now. Chances are that you – like most adults – slouch forward, lean to one side or the other, roll your shoulders forward, or crane your neck when working at a computer screen. These poor posture habits can contribute to chronic back pain, neck pain, headaches, and other issues. The good news is – like most habits – paying attention to poor posture and taking steps to improve the way you sit, and stand may alleviate pain, stiffness, and help you avoid long term, chronic joint problems.
Slouching or Stooping Can Throw You Off Balance
Your spine is not naturally ramrod straight. In fact, it has three natural curves – inward at the neck, outward at your upper spine, and inward again at your lower or lumbar spine. Your body is designed to support these three natural curves, and poor posture while standing or sitting makes it harder for supporting muscles to keep your neck, back, and limbs working together in a balanced fashion.
Symptoms of Pain Due to Poor Posture
- Back pain that is worse at certain times of the day
- Pain that starts in your neck and moves down into your upper and lower back
- Pain that subsides after switching positions while sitting or standing
- Sudden back pain that coincides with a new job, a new office chair, or a new car
Take the Mayo Clinic Wall Test
The Mayo Clinic recommends that you check your standing posture by taking “the wall test”. Stand with your back to a wall with your heels about 2 to 4 inches away from the wall. Try to have the back of your head, shoulder blades, and buttocks touching the wall. Place one of your hands behind the curve in your lower back, making sure that your palm is flat against the wall.
Your hand should just fit into that curve. If there’s too much space, you can close it up by pulling in your abdominal muscles. If you can’t easily fit your hand into the curve, arch your back slightly. Try to maintain this posture when you walk away from the wall, and focus on holding on to this position throughout your day. You may feel awkward of stiff at first, but keep at it, and soon your “new” improved posture will become second nature.
More Good Posture Tips from Mayo Clinic
When standing, keep these tips in mind:
- Stand straight and tall with your shoulders back.
- Keep your head level and in line with your body.
- Pull in your abdomen.
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Don’t lock your knees.
- Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.
- Let your hands hang naturally at your sides.
- If you must stand for long periods of time, shift your weight from your toes to your heels or from one foot to the other.
When seated, keep these tips in mind:
- Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Don’t cross your legs. Your ankles should be in front of your knees. Keep a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat.
- If the chair doesn’t support your lower back’s curve, place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back.
- Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling, and tuck your chin in slightly.
- Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed — not elevated, rounded or pulled backward.
Good Posture is Necessary to Stay Safe When Lifting
Whether you’re lifting light or heavy objects, proper form is key to avoiding injury. Follow these three rules to lift safely.
- Bend at your hips – not your lower back – and keep your chest out rather than curving inward.
- Keep the object you are lifting as close to your body as possible.
When changing directions while lifting, lead with your hips rather than your upper or lower back
Exercise Can Help Improve Posture, Prevent Pain
Exercising the muscles in your abdomen and back can make it easier to maintain proper posture too. AARP offers a number of easy to follow videos to help you strengthen your back muscles, to reduce your risk of injury when lifting, prevent pain associated with weak abdominal muscles, and improve your posture.