Posture can have a huge effect on your back pain. Sometimes it can even be the root cause of your back pain. Despite the emergence of more functional movement exercise options—such as CrossFit—our daily modern lives do not encourage proper posture. From sitting at a desk all day to constantly looking down at our smartphones, good posture is not a given. If you already have back pain, poor posture will only aggravate your back more. Or if you have particularly bad posture, you might find that it is actually causing you back pain. Either way, your back will benefit from improved posture.
FORWARD HEAD POSTURE
Forward head posture occurs when the skull protrudes too far forward from the spine. As the average human skull weighs roughly 10 to 11 pounds, that shift in weight can have reverberating effects on the rest of the spinal column. Common causes of forward head syndrome include weakness in the neck muscles, previous trauma to the neck, poor posture while driving, and time in front of a screen. There are numerous more causes for forward head posture but for many people, it simply comes down to bad habits that eventually lead to long-term—although not necessarily permanent—changes in posture.
WEAK CORE MUSCLES
While forward head posture can affect the neck and mid-back, weak core muscles have more of an effect on the low back. Core muscles are made up of your pelvic floor, hip flexors, and abdominal muscles. Your core muscles form the strongest support base for your spine. Without proper support, your lower spine becomes more prone to injury and strain. Not only that, if your lower spine is prone to slouching or if you have a way back as a result of weak core muscles, it affects the rest of your spine.
CORRECTING POOR POSTURE
Once you realize that your back pain may have something to do with poor posture, you need to go about correcting it. It is essential to know exactly what you need to correct before you start making changes. That being said, there are probably some general things you can change in your day to day routine to improve your posture and, in turn, your back pain. Always consult a medical practitioner before starting any sort of corrective exercise routine or therapy.
STAND UP STRAIGHT
- When you are standing, keep your feet hip width apart and make sure you are not locking out your knees.
- Engage the low belly a little bit to tilt the front of your pelvis up. You should feel some space come into your low back as your tailbone drops down towards the floor.
- Drop the low ribs down slightly and tuck them in so they aren’t “popping” forward.
- Lift your shoulders up to your ears and then roll them down and back. Gently draw your shoulder blades towards one another on your back.
- Now drop your chin down slightly as you draw it back towards your neck the tiniest amount. If you are someone who does have forward head posture, this may feel funny at first. You should notice a reduced amount of tension in the back of the neck in this position.
GIVE YOUR WORK STATION AN UPGRADE
- If you sit at a desk at all day, make sure you have a good chair. You want something with proper lumbar support that allows you to sit up and back into the upper part of the chair. This will prevent you from leaning forward when looking at your computer screen. Another option is to sit on an exercise ball. The balance required to sit on a ball will engage your core muscles and discourage poor posture.
- Adjust the height of your desk and/or keyboard so that they are slightly lower than your elbows when your arms are relaxed. This prevents slouching towards your desk if it is too low or hunching the shoulders if your desk is too high.
- Schedule in reminders to look away from your screen. Take time to correct your posture. Maybe get up and have a stretch!
STRETCH IT OUT
- Sign up for a yoga class. Yoga helps to strengthen and stretch the body and is a great way to help you improve your poor posture. Yoga will help you to increase your bodily awareness which is key when getting your body into proper alignment.
- Give Pilates a try. Pilates emphasizes core strengthening and incorporates stretching too. It is a great way to start to work on correcting your poor posture and is especially safe if you have preexisting back pain.
However you decide to start working on your poor posture, know that change will take time. Over time, you will notice an improvement in your back pain. You may even find total relief from your back pain!