Back pain from improper posture can negatively affect your mobility, your mood, your sleep, and your ability to enjoy life. Thankfully, there are several easy strategies that can give you some relief and prevent future pain.
Posture goes far beyond reminders to “sit up straight” like your mom always told you. In fact, sitting completely straight can be bad for your back in the long term!
Why Does Posture Matter?
Developing and maintaining good posture is important because it influences everything that we do. Your physical abilities and appearance both depend on your posture. Using good posture allows you to lift and carry more weight without injury, and can help you appear slimmer and more confident.
Posture also contributes to your body’s long-term health. Without good posture, you’re more likely to develop pain, stooped shoulders, and balance issues.
This article provides a brief overview of some strategies for dealing with back pain and stop it from getting worse. But, I am not a medical doctor — if you have a pre-existing medical condition or have any questions or concerns about performing any of these strategies, please talk to your doctor!
How to Get Relief From Back Pain
When you experience an increase in back pain symptoms, it can be hard to know what to do. Many people find that applying heat using a heat pack or by taking a warm shower can help their muscles to loosen up and provides some relief. Others may turn to a muscle rub, massage, or lying on a hard surface.
Catch your pain at its source. While these strategies work well in the moment, they don’t necessarily do anything to prevent the back pain from coming back in the future. The strategies below can help to provide back pain relief, while also fixing your posture. Catch your pain at its source, and prevent it from returning.
Fixing Neck Pain
Bad posture at the neck (or “forward neck posture”) occurs when your chin juts forward and forces your neck to curve back. The strain on the neck can cause significant muscle problems over time in both your neck and shoulders.
To correct your neck alignment, try the exercise above or a simple 3-minute posture solution explained by Joel.
For immediate relief of a stiff neck, the video below may be what you need. In general, slow, controlled movements that gradually increase in intensity are best for neck stretches. You never want to force movements at the neck, or cause pain to the delicate tissues there.
Again, neck pain can be symptomatic of larger problems! If stretching is painful or you experience other concerning symptoms, see your doctor before attempting any other exercises.
Fixing Pain in Your Shoulders
Many people carry stress and tension in their shoulders. This can lead to tight muscles, a forward hunch, and ongoing pain that seems impossible to resolve.
Most shoulder pain comes from either the rhomboid muscles (which run directly between your shoulder blades) or the trapezius muscle (which extends from your shoulders to your neck and then down to the middle of your back).
The “trap” muscles. If you feel tension from the base of your neck out towards your shoulders, the fault is in your trapezius muscle. Tightness in your trapezius can come from that same “forward neck posture” from improperly carrying a heavy bag, or just from commonplace slouching.
This tension can also lead to headaches and pain in other muscles that attempt to compensate for the many movements that the trapezius is usually responsible for. The video above provides a great way to give yourself some easy tension and pain relief to the trapezius.
The rhomboids. If your shoulder pain is in between your shoulder blades, you likely have tension in your rhomboid muscles. The stretches shown in the video below can help to target these difficult to reach muscles.
However, your pectoralis muscles (or “pecs”) on the front of your torso are also important! They become shortened over time if you constantly hunch forwards. Stretch out your pecs using a simple stretch that you can do in your doorway (shown in the video below).
Fixing Pain in Your Lower Back
Lower back pain can cause serious problems for your lifestyle. People with significant low back pain may have difficulty sitting for long periods of time, standing for long periods of time, or walking. In short, life can get pretty rough.
It might seem counterintuitive, but stretches that focus on your hamstrings at the back of your thighs can be most effective in dealing with lower back pain. These muscles often become tight when sitting at a desk all day with poor posture. When your hamstrings tighten, they pull on your pelvis, which in turn can throw your lower back muscles out of alignment.
A lot of yoga- or Pilates-inspired stretches (such as the ones shown in the video above) can be ideal for fixing low back pain and improving your posture. Even just making sure that you walk for a few minutes every day to loosen up those hamstring muscles can make a big difference in your lower back health.
How to Prevent Back Pain From Getting Worse
The tips above are likely able to provide you with some immediate relief. However, it’s also important to develop strategies and lifestyle changes that solve the posture problems that are causing your back pain, and keep it from getting worse in the future.
Change Your Sleep Position
Did you know it’s possible to have bad posture even when you are asleep? Using pillows to help you position yourself properly in bed can make a huge difference in the amount of back pain that you experience.
- Side sleepers — Hold a thin pillow between your knees, and also hug a pillow with your arms. This maintains appropriate alignment at your hips, and prevents you from rolling forward in the night, improperly rotating your spine. The pillow at your head should not extend past your shoulders, to prevent your neck from tilting up.
- Front sleepers — Unfortunately, this is generally the worst position for your posture. If you can, try switching to sleeping on your side or back. If that’s not possible, try placing a pillow under your stomach to prevent your back from caving in towards the mattress while you sleep.
- Back sleepers — This is the ideal position for back alignment, and lets your mattress do its job. Ideally you wouldn’t use a pillow at all, but try using a thin pillow. Do not let the pillow extend past your shoulders to prevent your neck from being pushed forwards.
Reposition Your Gadgets
The average human head weighs about 12 pounds. That much weight causes some serious damage to your spine when not supported properly. Tilting your head up or down to look at gadgets (such as your cell phone, computer screen, or e-reader) increases the forces acting on your muscles, and results in significant pain and long-term bad posture.
Try to set up your desk so that your computer monitor is at eye level. As well, hold your phone in front of you when texting as often as possible. Alternatively, try lying on the floor and holding your device above your face.
A lot of muscle pain and tension can come from stress. Reducing stress is difficult, but it leads to incredible health benefits. To relieve muscle tension from stress, try participating in some daily mindfulness using a meditation app.
If that’s not your style, even deep breathing or going for a quick walk can help to loosen your muscles and remind them that they don’t need to be battle-ready all the time. Once your muscles aren’t tense, you may have an easier time maintaining a healthy posture.
Strengthen Your Core
One of the best ways to combat lower back pain is to work on strengthening your core muscles. While ab work may not be your favorite form of exercise, a little bit of core strengthening a few times a week can make a world of difference in the support that your abdominal muscles are able to provide your spine.
Fixing Your Posture Can Change Your Life
Even though fixing your posture can virtually eliminate back pain in many people’s lives, it’s rare that people take it seriously. When it comes down to it, a lot of bad posture problems have to do with habits. Sometimes it takes external motivation and reminders to truly make a change.
Maybe this means you don’t use your laptop in bed anymore. Or perhaps you set a reminder in your phone every 45 minutes to get up and stretch for 30 seconds.
Whatever it takes, making the effort to fix your posture is worth it. Your body will look better, work better, and feel better in no time.
Do you struggle with your posture? If you have any tips I didn’t mention in the article, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
Image Credits: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock