Many people have poor posture starting during childhood, but unhealthy body alignment, also known as bad posture, becomes more common with age, especially if you aren’t physically active, or you gain weight or sit a lot. Neck pain and back pain are also at epidemic proportions, and poor posture contributes to these nagging and often chronic problems.
Why is bad posture so common? Here are seven reasons that may explain why you have bad posture. Some of them may surprise you!
You’re Using the Wrong Pillow
How are you sleeping at night? Choose your pillow wisely. The pillow you sleep on at night could make your posture worse and contribute to neck pain. The pillow you choose should be a height where your neck is in alignment with your chest. If you sleep on a very high pillow or pile several pillows on top of each other, it forces your neck too far forward and can strain the muscles in your neck and upper back. It’s also helpful to place a pillow at points where your body doesn’t touch the mattress for extra support, as well as under your knees for extra support for your spine.
Being overweight or gaining too much weight, especially around the tummy, can throw off your center of gravity and contribute to poor body alignment. When you have too much tummy fat, the center of gravity of your body shifts forward, creating an excessive inward curvature of the spine called lordosis. People with this condition appear to have a swayback where their tummy and buttocks stick out more than they should. Having this posture places more strain on your lower back and can lead to back pain. Losing weight can improve your body alignment and take some pressure off of your spine.
You Text Too Much
Your head weighs around 10 pounds, but when you bend your head down to text, the force on your neck and spine increases by almost five-fold. If you do this many times during the day, your spine and the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in your neck experience a lot of excessive force and stress. Over time, you train your neck to assume this position and it can alter the natural curvature of your upper spine. Plus, the added stress on your neck can trigger headaches and shoulder pain. Hold your devices higher, so you don’t have to look down as far to view your device. Even better, use your smartphone less.
You Don’t Wear the Right Shoes
One way people damage their posture is by wearing high heels. Thankfully, they aren’t as popular as they once were. Why are high heels a problem? Shoes with higher heels shift your weight forward onto the balls of your feet. To compensate, your upper body shifts forward to maintain balance. This causes the natural curvature of your spine to flatten somewhat. Over time, you can develop spondylolisthesis, where one verterbra slips over another. If you must wear high heels, save them for special occasions and give your feet and spine a break.
You Have Muscle Imbalances
Muscle groups are paired together as agonists and antagonists. The agonist is the muscle group that contracts to move while the antagonist relaxes to allow the movement to occur. For example, when you flex your arm, the biceps muscles in the front of your upper arm contract (the agonists) while the triceps in the back of the arm (the antagonists) relax. When agonists and antagonists are equally strong, it creates muscle balance. In contrast, if one set of muscles is weaker than the other, it creates muscle imbalances that can lead to postural problems.
You can correct muscle imbalances through strength training, thereby improving your posture. If you already strength train, keep your training balanced. Most strength training exercises involve pushing, like push-ups and bench press. Balance things out by including exercises where you pull, like cable pulls and bent-over rows. Doing this will ensure more symmetrical muscle development.
You Sit Too Much
When you sit too many hours during the day, your hip flexors shorten and tighten while the opposing muscles, your hip extensors, lengthen or relax. This combination creates a muscle imbalance that contributes to poor body alignment. One way to correct this is to sit less and take frequent breaks to stretch and walk around when you do. If you have to sit a lot, include strength-training exercises in your routine to strengthen the glute muscles (your buttocks) and the hamstrings in the back of your thighs. Likewise, do hip flexor stretches to lengthen your tight hip flexors.
Adjust how you sit in a chair too. Sit up straight, so your shoulders, buttocks, and ears form a straight line. Keep both feet on the floor with weight distributed evenly between your two feet. Make sure your chair has good back support too or buy a back support to place against the back of your chair. One more reason to sit straight: Slouching in a chair alters the natural curvature of your spin and places pressure on the nerves in your spine. Over time, this can even alter your spine.
Poor Core Stability
Include core strengthening exercises in your training routine to build strength in the abdominal and back muscles that support and stabilize your midsection. Planks are a good option but do a variety of exercises that target the all-important core muscles. Strengthening your core will not only improve your posture but also improve your balance and lower your risk of back pain.
The Bottom Line
Now you have a better idea of what causes bad posture and how to correct it. Good body alignment matters in terms of how you look, but more importantly, how you feel.
- Osong Public Health Res Perspect. 2016 Dec; 7(6): 378-381. Published online 2016 Oct 20. doi: 10.1016/j.phrp.2016.10.001.
- NHS.UK. “Common posture mistakes and fixes”
- WebMD.com. “6 Exercises for Better Posture”
- Nebraska Spine Hospital “Scary Facts About Poor Posture”