An Osteopath’s Guide On How to Fix Bad Posture
By Kitti Lepp MSc. (Rehab) and Robert L. Grech BSc.(Hons.) Phys.; BSc. (Hons.) Ost. (UK)
Poor posture can result in a whole host of issues, including back pain, shoulder stiffness, and general discomfort. Through consistency and minor changes to your daily habits, you can prevent these issues from surfacing. Using proven osteopathic approaches, we have created a thorough guide about how you can fix bad posture to loosen up your day. If you want to eliminate those unwanted niggles and aches, all you need to do is read on.
What are the signs of bad posture?
Whilst there is no such thing as ‘perfect posture,’ there are certain body positions that are probably less ideal than others. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid these like the plague. Constantly changing positions can help offset the traditional problems associated with poor posture. But certain positions are less recommended than others. Below are just some signs of bad posture and how it can affect your body alignment.
Slouching in a chair is not only uncomfortable but can also create a lot of unnecessary stress through the neck, lower back, and thoracic region. Unlike a normal sitting posture where the hips mold into the chair’s shape, the mid and lower back are bent to their limits for prolonged periods.
Not only do these lead to the over contraction of surrounding muscles and soft tissue but also pain. In fact, an article by Harvard Health even noted that slouching is associated with constipation, heartburn and incontinence. Sitting correctly is not rocket science, yet it’s a habit that far too many people are still throwing caution to the wind.
Sticking your bottom out while standing is a sign of hyperlordosis and/or anterior pelvic tilt. This is also known as a swayback or saddleback. An excessive inward arch of your back posture can create additional stress through the spine, particularly as the muscles work less efficiently when the back deviates from the body’s midline. Although not always the case, there is evidence that hyperlordosis could increase the risk of developing low back pain.
Wearing high heels, pregnancy, or excessive weight around the midsection also can contribute to this posture. So you may be asking, how to correct this back posture? Simply relax your shoulders, pull in your abdomen and keep your head aligned with your spine. Importantly, strengthening the buttock muscles and stretch both the hip flexors and thighs is also effective. You can refer to some of these exercises demonstrated below.
Standing with a flat back can also be problematic. Many people with flat backs will either have a posterior pelvic tilt (tucked in pelvis) or a reduced natural spinal curve. Naturally, people with these postural changes will compensate by leaning the trunk forward and rounding the shoulders. Standing in this position is not only challenging but can also lead to back pain. Likewise, performing specific exercises targeting the lower back and thighs can be beneficial.
Leaning on one leg is another common but annoying position for some individuals. You see this all the time. People lining up and waiting for long periods, people begin to shift their weight towards a specific side. For those with hip pain, it can become a particularly uncomfortable position. Standing like this, puts a lot of strain on that one part of the lower back and hip. To correct this active posture, remind yourself to stand shoulder-width apart and distribute your weight evenly through both legs.
Wrong posture Correct posture
Hunching your back (aka computer posture) is quite common in sedentary jobs like working in an office or in front of a computer screen (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). Stereotypically, people with this habit tend to have a rounded upper back (known as thoracic kyphosis) and a forward head posture with their chin poking forward.
This creates tension in the back and shoulder muscles and can also lead to shoulder, upper, and mid back pain. For many, this is simply their natural sitting posture. And many will find that changing this can be difficult. So, what is good posture then? Great question!
Here are some cues to help eliminate that nasty hunchback posture:
- Keeping your feet flat on the floor
- Maintain your knee height lower than your hips
- Have your back straight
- Arms at desk level
- Tuck your chin in
- Engage your lower tummy muscles
Although incorporating all these cues can be overwhelming, try attempting one or two of these to start off!
Cradling your phone between your ear and shoulders for long periods is dreadful for the neck and shoulders. Regular phone use creates tension through the body, especially the shoulders, upper back, and neck muscles. It can cause pinching of the nerves that exit from the neck, leading to numbness and tingling down the arm.
It’s essential to avoid this poor neck posture by either holding your phone with your hands or using a hands-free headset to keep upright. Additionally, the two exercises below can help temporarily reduce the tension through the upper body.
- Side neck stretches: slowly lower your head to one of your shoulders, hold it there for 10 seconds, repeat the action on the other side.
- Neck rotations: slowly turn your chin towards one shoulder and hold it there for 10 seconds; then repeat on the opposite side
Rounded shoulders are among the most common presentations that we see for patients with headaches, neck and shoulder pain. Especially those bound to the office or in front of the screen, this is the natural position you will probably undertake. As a result, the postural muscles (e.g., chest and certain shoulder regions) will become hyperactive and tight.
To see whether you have rounded shoulders, all you need to perform is one single posture test. Simply standing with your arms naturally hanging by your side and observing where your knuckles are facing. If they’re facing forward, it means that your shoulders are internally rotated and ultimately ’rounded.’ Fortunately, performing appropriate exercises to strengthen your upper back and chest muscles can slowly help reverse these changes.
Posture Correction Exercises
Being aware of your body’s positioning is only the first step for reducing aches and pains. Correcting the changes to the body that poor posture creates involves exercises. As a result, it’s prevalent for certain muscles to become tighter while others become weaker. For example, a forward neck posture partly occurs due to shortened neck flexor muscles and weaker neck extension muscles.
One of the most fool-proof ways of fixing bad posture involves performing corrective exercises. Try to ignore the company’s marketing ineffective correction devices, such as the “world’s best posture corrector.” They are not proven and, at times, pricey. Instead, follow along these specific movements to help strengthen, loosen and energize your muscles over time.
Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet facing forward and arms stretched out in front. Lower yourself by bending your knees and go down till your thighs get parallel to the floor. Slowly rise up to a standing position. Repeat 10 times.
Side-lying leg raise: Lie on your right-hand side with your right knee bent at 90 degrees and your left leg straight and in line with your back. Press your left fingers into the top of your buttock and raise your leg as far as you can. Slowly get back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on both sides.
Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart, and flat on the floor. Raise your hips to create a flat line from your knees to your shoulders. As you come up tighten your abdominal and buttocks. Go back down to the initial position. Repeat 10 times on both sides.
One-leg kickbacks: Place yourself on your hands and knees. Keeping your right leg bent at 90 degrees, raise it behind you as high as you can, squeezing your buttock. Lower to the starting position and repeat 10 times with each leg.
Lunges: Standing up straight with your feet together, take a step forward with your right leg. Slowly bend your knees until both your legs are bent at 90 degrees. Get back up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times with each leg.
Stomach crunch: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your hands across your chest. Slowly curl up towards your knees until your shoulders are about 7-8 centimeters off the floor. Hold the position for about 5 seconds and lower down slowly. Repeat 10 times.
Oblique crunch: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, roll your knees to one side down to the floor. Place your hands across your chest. Slowly curl up towards your hips until your shoulders are about 7-8 centimeters from the floor. Hold the position for about 5 seconds, then lower down slowly. Repeat 10 times, then perform the exercise to the opposite side.
Plank: Lie on your front propped up on your forearms and toes. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Side plank: Lie on your side propped up on an elbow. Straighten your legs and raise your hips to create a straight line from head to toe. Keep your neck long and your shoulders down and away from your ears. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Perform on the other side.
Stomach crunch with legs raised: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands across your chest. Slowly pull your knees into your chest, keeping them bent at 90 degrees until your tailbone comes off the floor. Hold the position for a moment then lower down and repeat 10 times.
Rounded back? Poking chin? No worries! Simply follow our guide above to achieve a good posture. For many, following these simple steps can help prevent discomfort, aches, and pain throughout the body. For others, these issues are harder to manage.
If your back, neck, shoulder, or body aches continue to persist, you should start consulting relevant health professionals. At Osteopathy Malta, we specialize in helping our patients live pain-free. As posture experts, we personalize specific treatment programs for your individual needs.