How To Fix The 5 Worst Effects of Bad Posture
The best DIY tricks to fix bad posture!
If you’ve been slouching over your laptop working from home every day for the past two years, you’re certainly not alone. The makeshift home offices everyone’s been confined to since the pandemic began haven’t done any favors for our collective posture. Not only that, the average American is spending more time than ever – 5 to 6 hours per day! – hunching over their iPhones scrolling through social media, checking the news, or catching up on emails.
But with the return to the office looming – Vice recently declared that the WFH era is over – it’s a good time to re-evaluate what’s going on with your body’s structural health and correct the daily habits that are causing the neck, shoulder and lower back pain that have become their own epidemic.
Where to start? Keep reading, because we’ve got some secret tricks to fix bad posture we’re going to clue you in on.
What is ‘Good Posture’, Anyway?
Posture is the position in which you hold your body while standing, sitting or lying down. So-called ‘good posture’ means training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in a way that puts the least strain on muscles, joints and ligaments, especially while you’re moving or performing weight-bearing activities.
Good posture minimizes the wear and tear on joints (helping prevent the development of osteoarthritis), allows your muscles to be used more efficiently (reducing fatigue), supports the proper alignment of the spine, and improves mood. Studies have even shown that fixing your posture can increase your overall height.
But it’s easy to get off track. Humans are creatures of habit; you do the same things day in and day out without realizing the cumulative effects these habits can cause over time. Then one day you look in the mirror and realize that your body is out of sync; your neck is curved forward, your shoulders are rounded and anterior pelvic tilt has set in.
Here’s how you fix these problems.
Forward Head Posture (‘Nerd Neck’)
Cause & Effect
Ideally, your head should be balanced directly above your spine, so that your ears are in line with your shoulders. Poor work ergonomics, slumping, and too much time on mobile devices can all cause the head to shift forward from its natural center of gravity. We call this forward head posture (the layman’s term for cervical hypolordosis) and it can place a tremendous amount of stress on both the lower cervical and the upper thoracic spine.
Your head only weighs about 10 pounds by itself, but for every inch you shift your head forward, the effective weight of your head (and stress on your neck) increases by 10 pounds. This means that if your head is positioned 3 inches farther forward than it should be, it can put 40 pounds of stress on your neck!
Forward head posture can even affect your ability to breathe, weakening muscles necessary for respiration and reducing lung capacity by up to 30%.
1. Strengthen your cervical flexor muscles
To remedy forward head posture, try performing chin tucks to strengthen your deep cervical flexor muscles. Start by sitting with your shoulders relaxed, rolled back and down. Looking straight ahead, place two fingers on your chin, slightly tuck your chin and shift your head back. Hold for five seconds and then release. Repeat 10 times once per day.
Too easy? Take it to the next level by lying face-up on the floor, tucking your chin and raising your head just off the floor. Again, hold for 5 seconds and repeat for sets of 10 reps.
2. Keep your eyes looking forward, not down
I could spend hours preaching about the postural evils of spending so much time on our smartphones and laptops, but the reality is that they aren’t disappearing anytime soon. So if you’re going to be using them for an extended period of time, do your best to get your screen up as close to eye level as possible.
Cause & Effect
Also known as thoracic kyphosis or a dowager’s hump, this is excessive forward curvature of the upper back. It’s closely associated with a muscle imbalance called upper cross syndrome.
In upper cross syndrome, the muscles in the back of the neck and shoulders (upper trapezius and levator scapula) become extremely overactive and strained. The muscles in the front of the chest (the pec major and minor muscles) become shortened and tight.
Conversely, the opposite muscles that are supposed to counter-balance these muscles become underused and weak. Specifically, people with upper cross syndrome have weak muscles in the front of the neck and in the mid-back (the rhomboids, lats and lower trapezius muscles).
1. Stretch your chest
Find an open doorframe and place your bent arms against either side of the door with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Stagger your feet and gently push your chest forward until you feel a stretch across your pecs. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds or until the muscles relax before more forcibly pushing your elbows against the doorframe for another 5 seconds. Relax and repeat three times, trying to increase the stretch with each repetition. Finish by holding the stretch in place for a full 30–60 seconds.
2. Release chest tightness with a Hypervolt massage gun
Using a Hypervolt massage gun on the lowest setting, work each side of the pectoralis muscles in your chest, looking for areas of tightness. When you find them, apply slight extra pressure to help ease the tension. Massage each side of your upper chest two to three times for approximately 30 seconds each.
3. Foam roll your upper trapezius muscles
Balance face up, arms crossed over your chest, on a foam roller horizontally across your upper back. Without arching your back, move up and down on the foam roller, holding at points of tension for 10–15 seconds.
4. Do prone back extensions to strengthen upper back postural muscles
Lie face down with your arms extended in front of you in a Y position. Keeping your arms extended and head in line with your spine, gently lift your arms and shoulders off the floor. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds before gently returning to the start position. Repeat for 3 sets of 8 repetitions.
Prone back extensions are great for not only strengthening the upper back postural muscles but also stretching your chest.
Cause & Effect
Exercising, driving, sitting, reaching, standing, looking at our phones – you name it, we round our shoulders doing it. Rounded (or protracted) shoulders can screw up scapular and glenohumeral joint function, restrict mobility (particularly overhead) and lead to tight muscles along with rib and shoulder blade pain.
The good news is that it’s relatively straightforward to fix.
Similar to nerd neck and hunched back above, to fix rounded shoulders we’re going to stretch the chest and build strength in the upper back (no surprise that there’s a pattern here).
1. Stretch your chest
Just like the section above, to stretch your chest you’re going to find an open doorframe and place your bent arms against either side of the door with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Stagger your feet and gently push your chest forward until you feel a stretch across your pecs. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds or until the muscles relax before more forcibly pushing your elbows against the doorframe for another 5 seconds. Relax and repeat three times, trying to increase the stretch with each repetition. Finish by holding the stretch in place for a full 30–60 seconds.
2. Work on your shoulder mobility
The band pull-apart exercise improves shoulder range of motion, opens up the chest and strengthens your upper back and posterior deltoids. You’ll need a resistance band – choose one appropriate to your strength level.
Stand upright with back straight, feet shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Hold the band with an overhand grip and your arms straight out in front of you. Slowly pull your hands apart by squeezing your shoulder blades together and slowly return the band to the starting position. Aim for 2 sets of 10–12 reps every day.
3. Do less pressing & more pulling exercises
While a solid workout plan should be well-balanced between push and pull upper body exercises, in practice this is rarely the case. ‘Mirror muscles’ are almost always prioritized at the expense of the back and posterior shoulder muscles.
A 1:1 ratio of pushing and pulling exercises might be a great guideline if you already have a perfectly balanced physique. However, if you’ve already got rounded shoulders, a 1:2 and even as much as a 1:3 ratio of pushing to pulling exercises in your workout program might be warranted.
Enter resistance band lat pull-downs and face pulls, which, when performed properly, are extremely effective for reversing rounded shoulders.
For both of these exercises, bend your elbows and pull the elastic band towards you in line with your neck and shoulders – pulling towards your armpits for lat pull-downs and towards your ears for face pulls. Keep your neck and upper body still and squeeze your shoulder blades together with each rep.
Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise every day.
4. Use a pillow to prevent rounding your shoulders at night
If you’re a side sleeper, it’s likely you spend 8 hours every night with your shoulders curled forward in the fetal position. Sticking a bed pillow under the armpit of the shoulder that’s up helps keep your shoulders in a retracted – instead of protracted – position.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Cause & Effect
Anterior pelvic tilt is another way of saying your pelvis is tilted forward. It’s caused by sitting with poor posture, sitting too much, weak or inactive core and glute musculature, and tight, overactive lumbar extensors and hip flexors.
The glutes and abdominals work to rotate your pelvis backward, which results in a more upright posture and flatter stomach. Naturally, when they’re weak or inactive, your hips tend to rotate forward. Tightness in the hip flexors and muscles in your low back make this problem worse by pulling on your hips, rotating them forward and causing anterior pelvic tilt.
Anterior pelvic tilt varies in severity. If you have it, you’ll notice your lower back arch is pronounced, your butt sticks out, and your stomach protrudes forward. If left untreated, it can also contribute to lower back pain and tightness, sacroiliac and hip problems, knee injuries, spinal stenosis and herniated discs.
The spine, like a skyscraper, requires a good base to start from, and if that’s missing everything above it will be negatively affected.
There are three components to fixing anterior pelvic tilt: stretching tight muscles, strengthening weak muscles, and maintaining a neutral pelvis position throughout your daily activities.
1. Stretch the hip flexors (iliacus, psoas, and rectus femoris)
Too much sitting causes tight, shortened hip flexors, which “tug” on the lower back and pelvis and increase anterior pelvic tilt. Lunges are a great way to isolate the hip flexors and can be done just about anywhere.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and take a large step forward with one leg, allowing the opposite knee to drop to the floor. Maintaining an upright body position, squeeze your glute on the back leg and push your hips forward. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds. To increase the stretch, reach your arms up overhead.
2. Use banded glute bridges to activate the glutes
The glute bridge (with or without weight) is an excellent move by itself for activating your gluteus maximus and core muscles. But you can double its effectiveness and hit the rest of the glute muscles simply by adding a resistance band loop around your knees to make it an unbeatable 2-in-1 exercise.
Start on your back with your knees raised and your heels shoulder-width apart, about a foot in front of your glutes. Leave your arms at your side. From here, focus on squeezing your glutes to lift your hips up and bring your body into a straight line. Push your knees outward against the band. Hold at the top for 5-10 seconds before slowly lowering back down.
Aim for 3 sets of 8 repetitions.
3. Do planks to build core strength
If there’s one exercise we all love to hate and hate to love, it’s this one. A plank is a simple, effective bodyweight exercise to improve core strength that requires no equipment.
Place your forearms on the floor with elbows aligned below shoulders and arms parallel to your body at about shoulder width. If flat palms bother your wrists, clasp your hands together. You want your body to be in a straight, neutral position with your head looking down, your back elongated, and your hips in line with your knees and legs straight. Contract your abs, imagine you’re sucking your belly button into your spine, squeeze your glutes, and hold this position for 30–60 seconds.
4. Sit less at work
Sitting too much isn’t good for your posture, period. But when you do have to sit, make sure you’ve got a quality chair that supports your spine and pelvis and is ergonomically adapted to your workspace. Studies have shown that sitting in a slightly reclined posture (aim for a 110º angle between your legs and torso) with your feet flat on the ground puts less wear and tear on the spinal disks and the surrounding muscles and tendons.
The ideal workstation is an adjustable-height standing desk that lets you regularly transition between sitting and standing. Experts say those under 40 years of age should aim for a 1:1 ratio of sitting to standing, while those over 40 should aim for a 3:2 ratio of sitting to standing throughout their workday.
Of course, if you want to one-up the standing desk people there are other options.
Cause & Effect
One-legged lean is caused by placing the majority of your body weight on one leg whenever standing. We do it without thinking all the time; when we’re waiting in line, chatting on the phone or visiting with friends. It’s a bad postural habit that can lead to a variety of issues, including knee, hip and ankle problems.
The fix is simple (depending on your ability to program a new habit): stop favoring one leg when you’re standing around. Instead, consciously remind yourself to adopt a standing stance where your weight is evenly distributed.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart when possible to distribute your weight evenly across both legs.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
In a world in which we spend so much of our time sitting down, you’ll be surprised how quickly your posture can deteriorate without you realizing it.
These are great starts to correcting the most common effects of bad posture on your own, but studies have shown that the most reliable way to stabilize your spine and pelvis long-term is through a combination of correcting muscle imbalances and fixing the underlying joint movement and positioning with chiropractic treatment.
Correcting a musculoskeletal problem is a two-part process: returning proper motion to a joint and correcting muscle imbalances. If you’re only addressing joint motion (chiropractic adjustments) but ignoring the muscles that support those joints, you’ll never get long-term correction and be dependent on getting adjusted multiple times per week forever.
Conversely, if you’re only doing muscle rehab – stretching muscles that are tight/shortened and strengthening the muscles that are weak/lengthened – without making sure joints are functioning correctly, you’ll be stuck with low-level chronic inflammation forever.
At Ascent Chiropractic, we make it a point to address both.
Discover the difference personalized, comprehensive care at Ascent Chiropractic makes. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.