Back Pain-Posture Connection. Is Poor Posture Causing Your Back Pain?

For many, an episode of back pain is brought by an acute injury or trauma. Yet, for others, it is hard to identify the trigger. Could that be the result of just poor posture? 

It turns out, this could be true in some cases.  Let’s review the connection between back pain and posture in this article. 

How researchers evaluate pain -posture connection 

In some studies, the scientists compare X-rays and other tests of a group who experience back pain and a group that does not have pain. Do these tests show that the spine is misaligned? Is there abnormal curvature of the spine in the low back or neck between the groups? In other studies, individuals without back pain who are at risk to have improper posture (due to work, for example) are followed over a period of time. If they develop low back pain later, scientists would evaluate if poor posture may be a risk factor. 

Research studies found mixed results- some showing an association between pain and poor posture, while others did not. However, it makes sense to believe their improper posture on a regular basis can lead to back pain. 

Good posture allows the body to support the weight of the head and other parts of the body, while poor posture creates misalignment, additional pressure on the muscles, ligaments, and bones which leads to chronic low back pain and other health concerns. The body tries to compensate initially for the effects of improper posture, but in time, the musculoskeletal system weakens. The lower back is in particular prone to pain. 

Many other conditions linked with poor posture

In addition to pain, poor posture can also increase the risk of other conditions. According to Harvard researchers, poor posture is a common problem among Americans and can lead to neck pain, back problems, and worsening conditions. There are a few things that you may not expect that may play a role in back pain. For example, slouching increases pressure in the abdomen, creating additional pressure on the bladder, which can lead to stress incontinence. Slouching after a meal may trigger heartburn and even slow digestion while sitting in the wrong position of the toilet can promote constipation. Research studies also connect poor posture with stress,  depressed mood, and low energy. One explanation may be because poor posture seems to correlate with lower testosterone levels (a  hormone involved in feeling good, in control) and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 

Quick self-assessment 

There are a few ways to assess your posture. First, remove your shoes and stand against a wall, keeping your heels, buttocks, shoulders, and head touching the wall. Keep your feet straight and pay attention to where the weight is in the feet. If you have the right posture and alignment, the bodyweight should be felt over the heels. If the weight is felt in the front of the feet, it suggests that the bodyweight is pushed forward and you need to push down with the toes to stay balanced. These changes make the muscles in the calf tighten, affecting the alignment in the legs. 

Next, you can assess the space between your low back and the wall. If the spinal curvature is normal, you may be able to slide only a few fingers in the space. If you are able to slide the entire arm, it could be due to the fact that the lower spine is arching excessively. In this case,  the supporting muscles of the lower back are also under additional pressure.

Now try to tuck the pelvis under the so-called posterior tilt. If the shoulders move forward, away from the wall, it suggests that the muscles of the upper back may be weak and more likely to experience shoulder pain. 

How to improve posture 

Let’s start with the basics. Make a habit to roll the shoulders up and back, and relax them. Tuck the chin down and sit up using the hips. When you stand up, go against a wall and try to make contact with the hips, upper back, and head to improve your posture. 

Use apps and devices. Modern words and technology can be blamed in part because of the bad posture.  From sitting in front of the computer for long hours or in traffic to checking the phones looking down with neck flexed, sitting on a couch to watch TV, there are plenty of times when the posture is not optimal.

However, new tools and devices have been designed to help you maintain a correct posture. For example, there are lumbar pillows for chairs, palm rests, and footrests that can be used when sitting at a desk at work. Posture correctors and braces can be easily used under regular clothes to maintain good posture throughout the day. Upright Go Posture Trainer, with an app for iPhones and Android, is a popular device that helps you train your body to notice when you are slouched and helps you correct the posture by tracking in real-time and giving you feedback on the posture.

Take frequent breaks.  Most people spend an average of 10 hours at the desk during the weekdays. Take a 5-10 minutes break every hour, stand up and walk around. Sitting in a chair for a long time is not only detrimental to a healthy posture but may also increase the risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and even early death.  Standing desks could be an option. Based on some small clinical studies, these height-adjusted desks may decrease back pain by as much as 32% and also reduce stress and fatigue

Seek professional help– from a physiotherapist, for example. Physiotherapists are well trained to help you recommend certain exercises,  how to change unhealthy habits, gain better posture and strength.