When we’re in pain, we need an answer. We need to know what caused our pain, so we can find a way to feel better. In most cases, pinpointing what caused our pain is relatively easy and doesn’t take a lot of detective work. But in the case of back pain, finding the cause isn’t always as easy. 

If you suffer from back pain, there are many factors at play that may be contributing to your pain, including your posture. In this article, we will explore how poor posture can contribute to back pain, examine some causes of poor posture, and give you tips on how to improve your posture. 

How poor posture can cause back pain

When our spine is in correct alignment (e.g. when we have good posture), the weight of our upper body is naturally supported throughout the spine. Over time, if we do not practice good posture, our spine’s alignment will begin to shift. Small shifts in this alignment can create major issues if left unchecked, including chronic back pain. 

Think of seeing an elderly individual stooped over, supported by a cane. The curvature of their spine did not change overnight, it happened from years of small shifts within the alignment of their spine.

It’s estimated that over 80% of adults will experience back pain in their lifetime. By understanding how poor posture is caused, we can begin to fix a potential cause of our back pain.

What causes poor posture

Behaviors we develop over time can lead to poor posture. Some of these behaviors include: sitting for extended amounts of time, looking down at our phones/computers, and a sedentary lifestyle. Any combination of these habits can lead to poor posture which can result in back pain.

One analogy used to describe how back pain occurs is an iceberg. Back pain itself is represented by the part of the iceberg visible on the surface. The underlying behaviors that cause back pain to occur are represented by the portion of the iceberg that is below the water.

By beginning to focus on fixing the behaviors that lead to poor posture, we can begin to fix what may be causing our back pain. 

Tips for practicing good posture

Try these tips to help you start practicing  good posture:

  • Make sure your workstation has the correct ergonomic set-up. This includes tailoring the height of your chair, desk and computer screen to be the appropriate height for you. For more information on ergonomic set-up read this article.
  • Support your lumbar spine when sitting. Your lumbar spine includes the lower part of your back that curves forward. Supporting this part of your spine when sitting is a feature in many types of office chairs. If your office chair does not have lumbar support consider getting an insert, or using a rolled towel.
  • Stand up for 5-10 minutes every hour.  We spend most of our day seated, which can place additional strain on our spine (especially if your lumbar spine is not supported). By standing up every hour, we can decrease pressure on our spine.
  • Don’t look down when standing/walking (e.g. checking your phone) Keep your head looking straight ahead when standing/walking. Utilize the below-listed steps for better posture to help remember this.

In addition to these tips,practicing good posture during the day can eventually help to train your body to maintain good posture without consciously thinking about it. Here are the five steps for better posture explained.

Five steps for better posture

Practicing good posture throughout the day is a great behavior to help prevent back pain. Follow these steps to put your body into better posture.

Step 1: Find neutral spine
  • Neutral spine is the position where your low back has it’s natural inward curve. To find neutral spine when sitting, tilt your hips forward, then tuck your tailbone under you. Repeat this motion a few times then find the middlemost point where your back feels comfortable.
Step 2: Contract your core
  • Think of pulling your belly button towards your spine to actively contract your inner core muscles. This will help to brace your spine and maintain correct alignment.
Step 3: Lift your chest
  • Finding neutral spine and contracting your core may cause your chest to drop. Lift your chest up so that you’re back in your normal sitting position.
Step 4: Drop your shoulders
  • Once you’ve lifted your chest, rotate your shoulder blades down and back. Think of ‘dropping’ them into your back pockets to help create better upper back posture.
Step 5: Lengthen the back of your neck
  • The final step to better posture is to lengthen the back of your neck so that it is aligned with your spine. Properly lengthening the back of your neck will put your head directly over your spine. 
Practice makes perfect

Changing behaviors, especially our posture can be difficult. Keep up the practice of good posture throughout the day to create a lasting behavior change.  For more tips on how to help change behaviors to improve your posture, connect with one of our Telespine Health Coaches. Contact us for more information.

Rubin Dl. Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Spine Pain. Neurol Clin. 2007; May;25(2):353-71.

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