Back pain is something most people can, unfortunately, relate with. It is estimated 80 percent of people (both men and women) will experience back pain at some point in life, and back pain is the third most common cause for a doctor visit.
Many things can impact back pain, but poor posture is a big factor. Constantly sitting in front of screens and looking down at phones make poor posture and back pain a common challenge in today's society.
While poor posture and back pain may seem inevitable in life, they do not have to be. Learn how to fight against poor posture and back pain with these tips.
What Is Good Posture?
Good posture is not just important for cosmetic reasons. Good posture is an important component of preventing back pain and may play a role in preventing other health problems like digestive or breathing issues.
Good posture is important whether sitting, standing, moving, or even sleeping. Posture when the body is moving- like walking or lifting- is called dynamic posture. Posture when staying still- like sitting or sleeping- is called static posture. Having good posture in all these positions is important for health.
Having good posture means the body is in the right alignment and being held up properly. Muscles to hold the body up are being used as designed instead of using some muscles too much and others, not enough.
5 Tips for Improving Posture
If maintaining good posture has seemed like a constant struggle, know it is not too late to improve posture. The following are practical ways to combat slouching or poor posture that can be implemented at any time. In order to start improving posture, the first step is to increase awareness and mindfulness of posture whether sitting or standing.
1. Strengthen All Core Muscles
Core strength plays a vital role in both good posture and preventing back pain. Therefore, doing strength exercises for core muscles is key for improving posture. Core muscles include all muscles surrounding the midsection, front and back.
Sometimes people assume core muscles just include abs, but core muscles include more than just trying to get 6 pack abs. Make sure to include core exercises that strengthen the backside muscles and hip area as well.
2. Sit Up Straight and Stand Tall
This is what many think of as good posture: not slouching and sitting or standing tall. Whether at a desk, in the car or on the couch, think about sitting up straight. It may take some time to get in the habit of not slouching when sitting down. One thing that can help is to put reminders for sitting up tall like on a computer screen or somewhere on the dashboard in a car.
Keep in mind sitting up straight does not mean the whole spinal column needs to be flush with the back of a chair. The spine has natural curves that should be maintained while sitting.
The concept is the same for standing: gently pull shoulders back and down to prevent slouching. This can be an important reminder if hunching over a phone is a common tendency when standing up.
3. Keep Both Feet on the Floor When Sitting
Crossing a leg over the other when sitting is a habit many people automatically do. Instead of sitting with one leg crossed, keep both feet on the floor when sitting in a chair to improve posture.
Adjust the chair so your back is able to touch the back of the chair when seated. If needed, use a footrest if feet do not touch the floor. If the chair is on rollers, make sure to turn your whole body when needed instead of turning at the waist.
Spend a lot of time sitting in the car? Make sure knees are in line or above hips. Back support can be helpful to place in the lumbar spine region to support proper posture when driving.
4. Take Stretch Breaks Throughout the Day
Just like strengthening, stretching muscles is just as important for helping to improve posture. Sitting long periods of time, especially when not in proper posture, can increase stress and tension on muscles or joints.
Stretch breaks can be done 1-3 times throughout the workday or as needed. Remember to also include walking or exercise breaks to break up long periods of sitting as well! A general recommendation is to take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
5. Keep Ears in Line With Shoulders
Whether looking at a computer screen or down at a cell phone, it can be common for the head to creep forward and upper back hunch over. Over time, this can put extra strain on the neck and upper back.
To combat this pull forward, think about "pulling" the head back so earlobes are in line with the shoulders. This may feel like an exaggerated position, but it is actually how level the head is supposed to be.
How to Alleviate Back Pain
If back pain does hit, these simple tips can help alleviate pain. However, keep in mind if back pain is severe or chronic, it is always best to consult your healthcare team for individual recommendations.
• If there is back pain from sitting at a desk, strengthening core muscles and taking stretch breaks can help. However, working under the guidance of a therapist or exercise specialist can give individual guidance for focusing on any specific tight, overused muscles.
• Immediately after feeling back pain, put ice, a cold pack, or even a bag of frozen veggies on the sore area. Putting cold on the painful area can help numb it and reduce any swelling.
• After a few days, if the pain does not subside, a warm compress can help relax muscles and increase blood supply to promote healing. However, applying heat will generally only help alleviate pain for about the first week.
• Avoid the urge to just lay in bed and not move when experiencing back pain. Some movements, under the guidance of a doctor or therapist, can limit muscles from getting too stiff.
• Consider alternate therapies in conjunction with stretching, strengthening, and icing/heating. These can include therapeutic massages, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, or incorporating yoga, Pilates, or other similar movements.
Poor posture and back pain are unfortunately all too common. Most people spend a majority of the day sitting, looking at screens, and often hunched over. Improving posture can be a significant way to lower the risk for back pain; good posture is important whether lying, sitting, or standing.
Some key tips for improving posture include sitting/standing tall, sitting in a chair with both feet on the ground, taking needed stretch and exercise breaks throughout the day, and strengthening core muscles. Whether sitting or standing, make sure to keep ears level with shoulders instead of rounding your head and shoulders in front.
Guide to Good Posture. MedlinePlus. Published April 9, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/guidetogoodposture.html.
Maintaining Good Posture. American Chiropractic Association. https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Posture.
How to Improve Posture For a Healthy Back. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4485-back-health-and-posture.