Posture is the position you hold your body in while standing, sitting or lying down. You might stand tall or slouch, you might sit upright or hunch forward over your keyboard, you might have just the right pillow or one that is too low or too high.
For many of us, posture is unconscious. You’ve probably never thought much about the way you stand, sit or sleep. You just do what you do. It’s not until you pause and consider your posture that you notice your neck habitually tilts at your computer or you’re always rolling your shoulders forward. Is that why you’ve been experiencing back pain?
Does Poor Posture Cause Back Pain?
Good posture supports your body well; bad posture leads to a number of health complaints, including back pain.
Posture is supposed to rely on deeper muscle layers, which burn energy slowly and have great stamina. When your posture is poor, you don’t use these deep muscles. Instead, you rely on phasic ‘fast twitch’ muscles. These are more like sprinters than marathon runners and they get worn out by trying to keep you upright. Poor posture places extra strain on your muscles and ligaments and contributes to back pain.
Good Posture and Your Spine’s Curves
Your spine is an incredible part of your body. It holds your head and upper body together, gives you the strength to stand tall and the flexibility to bend or twist. It’s made up of many small bones called vertebrae that stack on top of each other.
- The cervical spine is a small section of just seven vertebrae, running from the base of your skull to your upper chest.
- The thoracic spine is the middle section of 12 vertebrae running from your upper chest to your middle back
- The lumbar spine (your lower back) features five bigger vertebrae that bear a greater share of your body’s weight.
These three segments create a natural spinal curve. Those gentle curves enable good balance and posture.
Good posture continues through your other joints too. Try to imagine a string going from your ankles up through your knees and hips, through your spine and into your head.The proper alignment (lining up) of your head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles creates good posture and reduces stress on your spine.
Do I Have Good Posture or Poor Posture?
Awareness of your posture is the first step to answering this question. When you’re waiting for the bus, chatting on your phone or at work, you can check your posture. How are you standing or sitting? Remind yourself to straighten up rather than slouch.
Examples of poor posture include:
- Tilting your chin up or down to look at your computer (your screen should be level with your eyes)
- Tilting your backside out, causing too big a curve in your lower spine
- Slouching or hunching your shoulders forward
- Regularly carrying a heavy bag or other load on the same side of your body
- Regularly wearing high-heeled shoes that knock your body out of alignment.
Posture is influenced by many other factors including your type of work, underlying fitness and stage of life. You may be more prone to poor posture if you’re overweight, pregnant, in high-heeled shoes or have very tight muscles or low levels of flexibility. Your daily patterns of sitting and standing also contribute.
Why Is Good Posture Important?
- Helps your body work smoothly
- Saves energy by using muscles efficiently
- Decreases stress on ligaments and joints
- Prevents a slow build-up of wear-and-tear injuries
- Helps make you look stronger and fitter.
So, what does good posture look like?
Good Posture When Standing
When standing, try to promote good posture by:
- Keeping your feet shoulder-width apart
- Bracing your core muscles
- Keeping your head aligned with your shoulders (do you tend to push it forward or tilt it to the side?)
- Letting the balls of your feet bear your weight, though you may shift your weight from your toes to your heels if you’re on your feet for a long time
- Letting your arms hang naturally.
Good Posture When Sitting
According to Safe Work Australia, 50% of us have jobs that involve sitting down for prolonged periods. Prolonged sitting with poor posture increases your risk of lower back pain. There are many other health consequences so the first tip for good posture when sitting is actually to get up more often! Maybe you could stand up to take phone calls, invest in a standing desk, walk around during ad breaks, or suggest some walking meetings.
When you are sitting, remember to:
- Adjust your chair’s backrest or use a rolled-up towel to provide support to your lower back
- Keep your feet on the floor or use a footrest
- Keep your knees level with your hips
- Keep your forearms parallel to the ground
- Pull your shoulders back and down
- Get up!
Good Posture When Sleeping
Invest in a good mattress and pillow. Many people find sleeping on their side with a pillow between the knees eases back pain.
How Can I Fix My Posture?
Now that you understand the best way to sit or stand, get into the habit of checking your posture regularly and realigning your body.
You can also try:
- Reversing your curves — for example stretching backwards if you’ve been hunched over your desk for a while
- Getting fitter — regular exercise supports good posture by improving muscle strength
- Stretching regularly to improve flexibility
- Strengthening your core muscles to support your lower back.
If you’re experiencing back pain or know that your posture isn’t right, then please come see us at The Brisbane Spine Clinic. We’d love to help you learn how to improve your posture and lower your pain levels. Breaking old habits and forming better ones is often easier when you have encouraging, expert support to help you.