You may be surprised to know that slouching while standing or sitting can cause some serious damage to your body, especially your neck and back. In the short term, you may not suffer any ill effects. However, given a longer period of time, the stress that gravity places on your spine, neck and back muscles can result in some anatomical changes in your body.
This, in turn, causes a domino effect of issues, such as back and neck pain through constriction of your nerves and blood vessels. Furthermore, poor posture can also cause problems with one’s discs, joints, and muscles, which can also result in neck and back pain, among other conditions.
What Can Poor Posture Cause?
People can train their muscles to have more endurance and strength through weight training or exercise. The opposite is also true. If we do not use our muscles correctly, or barely at all, we can de-condition them and put them at risk of injury.
This commonly occurs in large muscle groups such as the back, where de-conditioning can occur by sitting or standing with incorrect posture for too long. What does this mean in today’s context? Many people live sedentary lives and sit slouched in a chair for several hours working an office job.
Slouching can cause strength loss in the muscles. Given enough time, the muscles can weaken so much that it causes irritation, strains, or muscle pain. In this article, we are going to cover what bad posture can and can’t cause, and why maintaining good posture is so important.
Can Bad Posture Cause Upper Back Pain?
Yes, poor posture can cause upper back pain when the muscles that comprise it become de-conditioned and are no longer capable of holding the spine in a neutral alignment as easily as it once did.
As the head and shoulders lean forward, pressure from gravity pushes down on the spine, discs, ligaments, muscles, and other soft tissues. In a similar vein, leaning to one side while sitting, such as while working in front of a computer or driving can lead to an imbalance in one’s upper back that causes pain.
Can Bad Posture Cause Lower Back Pain?
Yes, bad posture can cause lower back pain, especially while seated. When you sit in a hunched over or slouched position, you are putting unnecessary strain on the discs between the vertebrae. If you are suffering from a herniated disc or sciatica, poor posture will only serve to aggravate these conditions.
Can Bad Posture Cause Sciatica?
Yes, bad posture can cause sciatica. Sciatica is not a medical condition, but rather a term used to describe symptoms caused by the actual underlying medical condition. Sciatica is nerve pain felt in the leg as a result of compression of the sciatic nerve. The source of the pain begins in the lower back, and spreads down the buttock and through the leg.
People often experience sciatica symptoms when their posture causes the sciatic nerve to be irritated, such as twisting the spine, bending it forward, cough, lying down, or standing or sitting while slouched over. By improving posture, you can reduce experiencing these posture induced symptoms. People who have a herniated disc often feel the symptoms of sciatica.
Can Bad Posture Cause Herniated Disc?
No, but bad posture can make it easier to suffer a herniated disc. Many people who suffer from a lumbar herniated disc believe that it was a singular event that caused the herniation, such as lifting something heavy, but often it is the outcome of a long process.
Spinal discs can be found between each vertebrae. They act as shock absorbers and help the spine move in all directions, in addition to supporting the upper body. Due to wear and tear or trauma, a disc can crack and leak some of the fluid inside, causing them to no longer be spongy and pliable as before.
The leaked fluid may irritate nearby spinal nerves, or the deformed, bulging disc can press against them causing the symptoms of sciatica. How does bad posture affect this process?
First, sitting places additional stress on your spinal discs compared to standing. Furthermore, many people slouch forward when sitting, especially if they sit for hours at a time. This position puts stress on your spine and can contribute to the symptoms of sciatica as we’ve covered earlier.
The problem is worsened when someone performs physical activities with bad posture, such as pushing, pulling, or twisting actions. Bad posture adds extra pressure on one’s neck, shoulder, and back muscles and joints, causing them to weaken and get strained. When you use these weakened muscles to perform heavy lifting, it can easily result in a herniated disc.
Can Bad Posture Cause Shoulder Pain?
Yes, poor posture can cause shoulder pain. According to Mayo Clinic, poor posture is listed as one of the causes of shoulder impingement, which is a common cause of shoulder pain. Shoulder impingement can be caused by any repetitive motion that causes the arms to be raised overhead.
As such, activities such as weightlifting, swimming, baseball, and construction can result in shoulder impingement. Performing any of these activities with bad posture will cause the impingement to occur sooner.
Can Bad Posture Cause Neck Pain?
Yes, poor posture can cause neck pain for the same reasons that slouching can cause back pain, and forward head posture can also cause neck and shoulder pain. Common activities that cause neck pain are texting, supporting a phone against the ear and shoulder with a bent neck, hunching over in front of a computer, reading a book, and so on.
Another common culprit is holding a bag or purse on one side where the strap keeps sliding down, so you have to hike that side up and maintain this awkward posture for a long period of time. This commonly occurs when shopping in the mall for too long, and this can cause the muscles connecting the shoulder and neck together to fatigue and spasm.
Also, sleeping with a pillow that is too firm or elevated too high can cause a strain on the neck because it can disrupt the natural alignment of the spine around the neck. Men, these next examples apply mostly to you. Carrying all the grocery bags from the car in one go, or carrying heavy objects such as a dumbbell on one side can cause neck strains.
Can Bad Posture Cause Scoliosis?
No, poor posture does not cause scoliosis. While scoliosis affects many children and teenagers (commonly girls) very suddenly, it is not because of bad posture, sports injuries or carrying heavy objects like backpacks or textbooks.
These things can affect one’s posture, giving the appearance of scoliosis, but they do not cause scoliosis. The misconception might be because people with scoliosis often have bad posture, but that is due to the effect that scoliosis has on posture due to the sideways curvature of a scoliosis patient’s spine.
It is true that the most common type of scoliosis, idiopathic scoliosis, has no known cause. However, scientists believe that this condition results from genetic factors, and bad posture is not recognized as a cause of scoliosis.
Can Bad Posture Cause Sternum Pain, Breast Pain, Chest Pain, Rib Pain?
Possibly. A common cause of chest pain is costochondritis which bad posture may cause. This condition is the result of when the cartilage connecting the rib and breastbone becomes inflamed. Many people are shocked when they experience this, because it is so close to the heart and so it is often mistaken for a heart attack or other similar condition that may affect the heart.
Those suffering from costochondritis can also feel pain travelling between their shoulder blades and down the spine. Often, patients suffering from costochondritis don’t have an official cause of their condition, however it is often believed that poor posture is the culprit. Trauma can also be a factor.
Can Bad Posture Cause Abdominal Pain?
Possibly. Poor posture caused by slouching compresses one’s abdominal contents and restricts the diaphragm from fully expanding because the abdominal contents are in the way. Furthermore, in this position the ribs are not elevated and the heart struggles to pump blood due to the increased pressure.
When the body has to work this hard to perform normal functions, it can cause various side effects. One such side effect is when someone suffers from abdominal pain that does not seem to relate to bowel function or eating. It is then suspected that bad posture caused by improperly sitting, standing or lying down is what is causing abdominal pain.
Can Bad Posture Cause Acid Reflux, Heartburn, GERD, Stomach Pain?
Yes, poor posture can cause acid reflux or heartburn. Acid reflux occurs when one’s stomach acid shoots up into the esophagus. Since the esophagus does not have the same special lining that the stomach does to protect against the acid, people experience acid reflux or heartburn.
When sitting down in a slouched position, extra pressure is placed on the abdomen, which can squeeze the stomach acid in the wrong direction. Anything that puts additional pressure on the stomach or abdomen, such as excess weight, pregnancy, or slouched posture, also weakens the esophageal sphincter (the valve that keeps the esophagus and stomach separate).
Thus, the weakening of the esophageal sphincter combined with the acid being forced in the wrong direction from the pressure caused by slouching results in the leakage of stomach acid into the esophagus. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the intestines passes its contents more slowly when in a slouched posture, further illustrating the effects that posture has on the digestive system.
Can Bad Posture Cause Incontinence?
Yes, poor posture can cause a type of incontinence known as stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is when there is an involuntary urine leakage when you perform certain activities that put extra pressure on your organs, such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, or jumping. It usually occurs in people who have inadequate control of their pelvic floor muscles. Women who have given birth tend to have this problem.
Similar to acid reflux, incontinence can be caused by or aggravated by poor posture because the additional pressure placed on organs, or the bladder in this case, strains the pelvic floor muscles and increases the chance of leakage.
Can Bad Posture Cause Breathing Problems or Shortness of Breath?
Yes, poor posture can cause breathing problems. Once again, slouching can prevent the diaphragm from fully expanding, which affects its ability to help your lungs contract and release with each breath. One’s ability to breathe properly is at its most optimal when the body is in proper alignment. Bad posture takes your body out of proper alignment.
A common example of this today is found in people who use smartphones for more than four hours a day. In this study, researchers compared two groups of people: those who used their smartphone less than four hours a day, and those who used it more. They found that those who used smartphones for longer tended to have worse posture, which might have affected their ability to breath properly.
Can Bad Posture Cause Headaches?
Yes, bad posture can cause headaches. There are various types of headaches, and one such headache is cervicogenic headache which can be addressed by correcting one’s posture. Cervicogenic headache is caused by pain in the cervical spine (the bones that comprise your neck bones) that travels up to your head.
Pain can be felt in the neck as a result of forward head posture, which is when your head is slouched forward. In this position, gravity pushes down on your neck muscles and joints and places a significant amount of stress on these areas.
Working in front of a computer often causes bad posture and therefore headaches. There is a simple solution that can improve your posture and alleviate cervicogenic headaches. Make sure the computer monitor is at eye level.
Whether you are standing or sitting, if the monitor is too low you will have a tendency to slouch. Buy a monitor stand or simply elevate the monitor by placing books beneath it until it is at eye level.
Can Bad Posture Cause Heart Palpitations?
No, bad posture does not cause heart palpitations, though it may have an indirect effect. A common cause of heart palpitations is anxiety and stress. Those with anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem tend to also suffer from bad posture, though it may not be caused by bad posture.
According to this study, researchers found that participants that sat with an upright seated posture tended to have better self-esteem and mood compared to those with a slumped posture. Researchers found that good posture decreased self-focus (which may cause low self-esteem) and improved rate-of-speech.
Their conclusion was that good posture could possibly reduce stress, and that possibly bad posture might result in stress, or at least do nothing to reduce it. So, in a long and roundabout way, someone with bad posture might also suffer from heart palpitations, but that does not necessarily mean bad posture causes it.
Can Bad Posture Cause Constipation?
No, but bad posture can contribute to constipation. While sitting on the toilet, if you want the stool to come out smoothly, you should have an upright posture. Hunching over, particularly if your knees are lower than your hips, makes it harder to come out.
A slouched position makes it difficult for the abdominal muscles to expand and push the feces out. Furthermore, the anus may be closed somewhat when hunched over. Bad posture should not be seen as the primary cause of constipation, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
Constipation is often caused by lack of water, exercise, and eating a diet with insufficient fiber. It may also be caused by medical conditions or from medication. If you add poor posture on top of that, you will end up sitting on the toilet for a long time.
Can Bad Posture Cause Vertigo?
Yes, bad posture can cause a type of vertigo called cervical vertigo or cervicogenic dizziness. A symptom of this condition is a sensation that either the patient is spinning, or else the world is revolving around them. This can be caused by neck disorders, trauma to the cervical spine (the neck bones), or bad neck posture.
The feeling of dizziness typically occurs after one moves their neck. There have been cases of it occurring when someone turns their neck to the left, or moving their head forward and backward, or rapid head movements.
To improve this condition, doctors recommend practicing stretching techniques, physical therapy, and learning how to maintain proper neck posture.
Can Bad Posture Cause Arthritis?
Possibly, bad posture can have an effect on arthritis. Your muscles need to work extra hard to support your body when it is in a state of bad posture. At some point, your fatigued muscles will no longer be able to properly alleviate the pressure from your joints.
The pressure will eventually reach your joints and they will get worn down over time. This can potentially cause one to develop osteoarthritis earlier in life. If you already have osteoarthritis in your neck, then bad posture can aggravate it. The same holds true for any other joint in your body. Poor posture puts undue stress on your muscles and joints, and the joints get worn down faster and may develop osteoarthritis.
Can Bad Posture Cause Bad Blood Circulation?
Yes, bad posture can cause circulation problems. With that said, even with good posture, sitting for too long can have a negative effect on your blood flow. It is important to take lots of breaks even if you sit with good posture. However, there are certain positions that are worse than others.
For example, sitting in any position where your limbs are bent or tucked in unusual positions can make it harder for your veins to circulate blood there (e.g. sitting cross-legged). With enough repetition over a long period of time, you may encounter problems like blood clots or varicose veins.
Common Causes of Poor Posture
If you’ve made it this far, then you must realize by now that poor posture can cause a lot of issues in the human body. In this section, we will cover some of the most common causes of poor posture today so that you can be wary of it and work towards improving it. They are as follows:
Sitting for Too Long
Especially, sitting in front of a computer. Unfortunately this is difficult to avoid, as many jobs involve working in front of a computer for long hours. It is very easy for posture to start breaking down as muscles fatigue.
Students are also affected by this issue because they are often studying in front of a desk, and it may be worse for them because they often have their textbook placed too low, forcing them to bend their head and neck to read it which further exacerbates the issue.
Texting or Talking On the Phone
The phenomenon known as “text neck” is when one suffers neck pain due to looking down at their phone for too long. Often people also bend their neck sideways to support their phone hands-free against their ear and shoulder. Any position that makes your head tilt in an unusual angle can cause the neck muscles to overwork and tighten, causing pain.
Carrying a Heavy Purse or Backpack.
If sitting in front of a computer for too long will eventually cause the neck, back, and shoulder muscles to fatigue and inadequately support your body, then carrying a heavy purse or backpack will cause fatigue much sooner.
Bags with a single shoulder strap can cause an imbalance where one shoulder is higher than the other. The side carrying all of the weight will fatigue and start slouching, and your body will try to compensate by tensing up surrounding muscles. This can cause muscle strain, tightness, and pain in addition to bad posture.
Accidents and Injuries
If you suffered an injury that causes you pain when you are in a certain posture, then you will likely avoid moving your body into those positions. Issues start arising if it hurts to maintain an upright position. If you are in a state where you must maintain bad posture to avoid pain, then you are putting your body at risk of further complications and may cause more pain.
Ways to Improve Posture
Keep your head straight, chin tucked in slightly, feet flat on the floor, your shoulders retracted (keep them down and towards the back), and knees at or below hip level. When you are looking at a computer monitor or reading a book, you must keep your head upright. Ideally, the monitor or book should be raised so that you don’t have to tilt your head.
Similar to sitting, but the main differences occur in the hips. Keep your head upright, with chin tucked in, puff your chest out and retract your shoulders (keeping them down and towards the back).
If your bottom tends to stick out and curve toward your lower back (the “Donald Duck” posture), you may have hyperlordosis. Make a conscious effort to keep it from sticking out. Wearing high heels tends to exacerbate this posture.
If your back appears to be completely straight, that means your pelvis is tucking in too much and your overall posture is stooped forward with shoulders rounded forward as well. Keep those shoulders retracted and incorporate planks into your exercise regimen.
You should be sleeping with a pillow that does not elevate your neck too much whether you are a side sleeper or back sleeper. If you are sleeping on your back, place a pillow beneath your knees. Raising your knees like this keeps your spine in a neutral position. Side sleepers should place a pillow between their legs at their knees. Do not sleep on your stomach.
See a Physical Therapist
It’s hard to correct bad posture without guidance. No amount of looking at pictures, watching videos, or reading informative articles can compare to the guidance of a physical therapist. They will assess your condition and make a custom program of exercises and stretches that can help you improve the flexibility and strength of your core muscles.
The core muscles are comprised of the pelvic floor, back, and abdomen and they work in tandem to support your spine. The intention is to keep the spine in an upright, neutral position. Flexed too far forward, and you lose the natural “S” curve of the spine and you end up with a flat back. Too far back, and you get the classic “Donald Duck” posture.
For more information on how to correct posture, read this article.