Impact of Posture on Chronic Pain

If you are like a lot of people, you probably spend much of your day in front of a computer, a TV, or a phone. You may or may not be aware of the poor posture that you are probably assuming most of the time. However, you may be experiencing some of the effects of that bad posture, namely neck and back pain.

You were designed to assume a certain posture that reduces wear and tear on your joints in your back, neck, shoulders, and hips. The optimal posture can also reduce the strain on muscles which in turn alleviates fatigue. Most important for chronic pain patients, the right posture can diminish the pain symptoms of many common conditions like arthritis, lower back pain, or neck pain.

What Causes Bad Posture?

While it is easy to assume that poor posture is merely the result of slovenliness, there are many factors that may play a role.

  • Injury—if you have suffered an injury, then some of the key muscles may over-compensate for weakened muscles. This imbalance can throw your alignment off.
  • Bad habits—many unfortunate patterns of behavior can throw off your posture like nestling your phone between your ear and your shoulder which can torque your neck.
  • Stress—anxiety can make you breathe more shallowly which will weaken your diaphragm, a key muscle in maintaining good posture.
  • Poor sleep—it can be bad for your spine to sleep on your stomach. Also only sleep on a firm mattress that properly supports your back.
  • Shoe choice—badly designed shoes can shift your center of gravity and misalign joints in an effort to compensate.
  • Heredity—in some cases, you may be predisposed to bad posture because of genetics. This is especially true if you have a congenital condition like Scheuermann’s Disease.

The Effects of Poor Posture

There is little doubt that bad posture has deleterious effects on your body, but you may not be aware of how bad they are.

  • Increased spinal curvature—it should come as no surprise that bad posture will deform the spine eventually. This spinal deformation will put you at added risk of injury because your spine can’t withstand impacts as it should.
  • Muscle strain—if you take up a position that is not natural for you, your muscles must work very hard to maintain that unnatural pose. Eventually, this will put too much strain on some muscles and produce fatigue.
  • Neck pain or headaches—if your head is bent too far forward, that will put undue pressure on your neck and shoulder muscles. Over time, this strain will produce pain which can spread to muscles
  • Blood vessel and nerve constriction—a misaligned spine will apply pressure to nerves and blood vessels nearby. This reduced blood flow can starve the surrounding muscle of oxygen and nutrients which will fatigue and weaken them. It is even possible to form a blood clot that could lead to a stroke, heart attack or embolism. Similarly, pinched nerves can send pain signals.
  • Digestive issues—putting your intestines in a distorted position can interfere with digestion. This may cause constipation or intestinal discomfort.

How to Improve Your Posture

If you want to relieve some of the strain on your back and neck, you should take steps to improve your posture. You might want to adopt one or more of the following recommendations from some health care experts:

  • Optimize your desk setup—if you spend hours at your desk every day, then you should focus on making it as ergonomic as possible. First, make sure your desk is at a height where your forearms and upper arms are at a 90-degree angle when you are seated. Furthermore, make sure that your monitor is at eye level. You don’t want to be looking down at your monitor all day.
  • Keep your phone at eye level— “text neck” is when you contort your neck to look down at your phone. If you maintain this position for longer periods, you will put far too much strain on your neck joints and muscles. Instead of looking down at your phone, raise it so that it is level with your face.
  • Remain active--regardless of whether you are sitting or standing for hours at a time, make sure to take regular breaks so that your body doesn’t remain in one position for too long. Make it a habit to get up and walk around once an hour.
  • Perform exercises—you can do some exercises that increase core strength as well as flexibility of your neck and lower back. This may include crunches, planks, and neck extensions.
  • Practice walking tall—pay close attention to the position of your head and shoulders as you walk. Try to keep your head, shoulders and hips aligned vertically as you walk. Also try to keep your weight evenly distributed as you walk to optimize your balance.
  • Sleep on your back—if you sleep on your stomach, that is very bad for your back. Instead try to sleep on your back so that your back and shoulders get the support they need. Make sure that your mattress is firm enough to keep you back in a straight position. Sleep with a flat pillow to keep your neck straight.
  • Avoid high heels—they may be popular and flattering, but high heel shoes can damage your posture and promote leg and back pain. Studies show that you should stick to shoes with heels lower than 2 inches.
  • Don’t sit with legs crossed—while you are sitting, you should keep your feet flat on the floor in as comfortable a position as possible. Sitting with one leg crossed on top of the other can lead to nerve damage and lower back pain.
  • Use a lumbar support pillow—if you tend to slouch while seated, you should consider using a lumbar support pillow. A lumbar support pillow should be placed in the lower back where it will help maintain optimal spinal curvature.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.