Originally posted on December 3, 2019. Updated on September 2nd, 2021
‘Sit up straighter’ – You might have heard your mom giving you this advice several times while sitting at the dinner table while you were a kid. Now you are no more a kid, but the lesson is still worth heeding. Most of us spend time all the day either sitting in front of a computer, slumping in front of TV, or hunching over the phone.
Lack of activity and sedentary lifestyle has contributed to the rise of chronic or acute body pain. We notice bad postures only when our backs hurt, or we experience stiff shoulder and similar issues.
In this article, we will discuss how you can correct your posture with the right exercises. We will also explore different reasons behind poor posture, and discuss how a physical therapist can help you out.
How Bad Posture Hurts You?
If you're suffering from poor posture, chances are you've got some sort of pain or stiffness associated with it. Below are some of the most common conditions that we see on a day-to-day basis that stem from poor posture over time.
All these conditions cause increased muscle tension and compression on the joints, and potential tightness and weakness of the tendons, which result in muscle or tendon tears.
Do you have lower back pain when walking for a prolonged period of time? The chances are you may be suffering from arthritis of your lower back or spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis in lower back arthritis is usually associated with tightness of the lower back and extreme extension of the back.
Again, this occurs because of the tightness in the hip flexors, which compresses the joints in the back. Over time, the joints may become worn out and narrowed, which then puts pressure on the nerves, and lead to spinal stenosis and facet arthritis.
Rotator cuff tears
Another common injury that occurs in people with poor posture, is rotator cuff tears. Try this exercise to see for yourself. Round your spine and try to raise your arms up high as you can. You can't raise your arms up as high, right?
Now go ahead and stand up tall through your upper back, and raise your arms up overhead. Your arm went up higher, right?
With poor posture, the shoulder can't function the way it needs to, and over time, this puts increased compression and torsion on the rotator cuff, which may result in a tear.
Neck tension, headaches, and stiffness
When they become tight, they limit up to 50% of your motion at the subcranial spine. Similarly, if we have a forward head posture, our neck muscles can't operate and function the way they need to, in addition to our joints being misaligned.
Over time, this may result in neck stiffness, arthritis, and even tension headaches. So, try it for yourself. Sit up tall and rotate your neck. Did your neck turn further?
Hip bursitis and hip arthritis
Another common condition that affects people who typically have aberrant posture, is hip bursitis and hip arthritis. When the hip isn't moving adequately, the muscles become weak and as a result, you may get increased compression and tension in the lateral hip muscles, which can result in tendonitis or bursitis.
Similarly, because the hip can't go through its full range of motion, the joint will be compressed and won't go through the full range. As a result, the cartilage gets worn out each step because it's not going through and unloading those specific articular surfaces.
Knee arthritis and plantar fasciitis
Knee arthritis and plantar fasciitis are other common conditions that result from poor posture because of poor biomechanics. You've all heard the saying, “The shin bone is connected to the knee bone. The knee bone is connected to the hip bone.”
When our hips become tight because we get tightness in the front of our thigh, the knee can't move adequately. So over time what happens is – these knee muscles get weak, and result in abnormal joint mechanics and knee arthritis.
The same thing goes for plantar fasciitis. When our hip muscles become tight and our spine becomes round, our ankle joints become stiff. The plantar fascia runs from the bottom of the foot and is connected through the calf.
When our calf muscles become tight, then it puts abnormal pull and strain onto the plantar fascia.
As you can see, your posture really does have an effect on your entire body and system, not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but also with pain, stiffness, and injuries.
3 Signs You Have Bad Posture…
1. Forward head- While working on your computer, or watching TV, you may often find your head protruding forward several inches over the vertebra in the neck. It is called forward head posture where your head tilts of the cervical spine. Why is it wrong posture? You might be surprised to know that for every inch your head tilts forward on the shoulder, the weight of your head increases by a minimum ten pounds.
It means that your head puts several times additional pressure on your cervical extensors and the neck for every inch you lean your head forward. As a result, your body is faced with multiple problems, like neck and shoulder stiffness and pain, migraine, jaw pain, cervical spine arthritis among others. The cause of forward head posture is excessive sitting and misalignment in the pelvis. It can also occur due to injuries or neck sprain.
2. Rounded Upper Back- If you have rounded upper back, you can’t sit with a straight back for more than a couple of minutes. Rounded shoulders are unnatural posture which is identified by an excess curvature of upper back along with a forward positioning of the head and curve shoulder. It occurs due to muscle imbalance – muscles of your chest are too tight and your back muscles and spine are too weak to support your shoulder.
The common causes of rounded shoulders are – working on computers, and looking down at smartphones or computer tablets for a prolonged period. Round back shoulders can have serious medical concerns, like the risk of osteoporosis, disk generation. Round shoulders decrease mobility in the shoulder and make muscles more susceptible to injury.
3. Arched Lower Back- Also referred to as hyperlordosis, or lordosis, the arched lower back is excessive inward curvature of the lower back. Our spine curves a little near neck, upper back, and lower back, jointly creating our spine’s S shape. This shape is crucial to absorb shock, support weight of our head, align head over the pelvis, stabilize and maintain its structure and maintain flexibility.
However, if your curve arches excess inward, it is called lordosis, lower arch back or swayback. It adversely affects your lower back and neck and leads excess pressure on the spine causing pain, stiffness, and discomfort.
What Causes Bad Posture?
We've seen people who round as they age. The problem is not that poor posture cannot be treated, but not many people know what to do about it. Poor posture usually stems from sitting for too long, not doing enough strength training, and gravity pulling your body down. Add to that, tight muscles and weak muscles also contribute to bad posture.
How Muscles Lead to Bad Posture?
There are several muscles that tend to get tight, which pull our posture into abnormal and aberrant positions. The most common ones that we see at our clinic at Back in Motion Physical Therapy & Performance, are the muscles associated with lower back, the hip flexors, the chest and lats, and the suboccipital muscles.
The lower back tends to get tight because of the hip flexor muscles pulling on the spine constantly. The hip flexors are muscles that run on the front part of the hip and when sitting, they become shortened.
As compensation, when walking, the lower back tends to extend to keep the head upright. This then puts the lower back muscles on constant tension all the time.
Similarly, the chest and lat muscles become tight and shortened. Again, this occurs commonly because of gravity pulling and sitting too much, in addition to the poor weakness of the antagonistic muscles. Just think about it for a second.
You're sitting at your chair proudly reading this post and you're rounded forward. This is putting your chest and your lap muscles in a shortened position.
Similarly, the suboccipital muscles become tight as well. These are the muscles at the top of the skull, and around its back. When tight, they extend the neck and lead to a forward head posture. Usually, these muscles are just compensation from the upper back being rounded.
To get rid of such a condition, you must sit at your desk and stand up tall. See how your head straightens out. Similarly, round your upper back into a rounded position. Notice how your head will extend back, and that will shorten these suboccipital muscles.
Now that we looked at the most common tight muscles, let's take a look at the most common weak muscles that counterbalance these tight ones. The most common weak muscles.
Believe it or not, the glute muscles or your butt muscles, are one of the most common muscles that get weak. Again, it usually stems from improper or too much sitting, not enough activity or not isolating out these muscles when strength training or doing an exercise routine.
The hip flexor muscles, as alluded to in the prior paragraph, tend to get tight and shortened. This puts the glute muscles in a mechanical disadvantage, which then makes your pelvis and your butt stick out, which rounds your upper back.
It arches your lower back, but can also extend your neck.
Similarly, the abdominal muscles also get a pension to being weak because of the hip flexor pull and the lower back tightness. This then causes an excessive lower back arching, and again, rounding of the thoracic spine.
Muscles that commonly combat the rounding of the spine are your parascapular and thoracic extensor muscles. These muscles consist of your middle and lower trap and rhomboid muscles, in addition to your thoracic spinal extensors.
These muscles are usually very, very weak and will cause the upper back to round and result in abnormal aberrant posture, which can result in pain and stiffness.
Similarly, the deep cervical neck flexors which combat the suboccipital muscles, tend to get weak. The longissimus capitis and Longus colli muscles are the deep neck flexor muscles that run on the front part of the spine.
When weak, it makes sure that your head protrudes forward, which can then put increased stress and strain on the neck and even limit rotation of your neck muscles because the suboccipital muscles are so tight. Someone who has a forward head posture can also get chronic intention neck headaches.
How A Doctor Of Physical Therapy Can Improve Your Posture Faster?
A doctor of physical therapy, maybe your best choice and boost the chance to improve your posture. They can pinpoint exactly which muscles are tight and which ones are weak. They can also mobilize your spine, hips, or even your neck, to improve the mobility of your neck from the poor posture, limiting the motion.
They can also speed up your posture correction process by working on the tight muscles by releasing them with their hands, with specific techniques. A doctor of physical therapy may be your best chance to improve your posture once and for all.
If you're serious about improving your posture, and you want to get rid of your pain and stiffness, call our office today at (239) 766-5590 or click here to learn all the different ways that physical therapists can help you.
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