Bad posture can cause chest pain, but the good news is you can probably alleviate it with a dedicated treatment plan – either at home or under medical supervision. Here’s how poor posture causes chest pain and how to fix it.
WARNING: If you’re experiencing chest pain, never self-diagnose. Always seek medical advice and call emergency services if warranted.
- How bad posture causes chest pain
- How to tell if your chest pain is from poor posture
- How to fix chest pain from bad posture
How bad posture causes chest pain
Poor posture is often associated with back and neck pain, but it’s important to remember that your ribs and therefore your chest are also connected to your spine, so bad posture can place stress on chest muscles, tendons and ligaments, causing them to ache.
“There are a few ways that poor posture can cause chest pain. The main causes are rib dysfunctions, referred pain from scalene trigger points, herniated thoracic discs or pinched nerves in the upper back,” says Dr. Dave Candy, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC, CMTPT, FAAOMPT, whose practice, More 4 Life, is based in St. Louis, MO.
Here’s why you might experience chest pain due to posture.
Conditions such as kyphosis, upper crossed syndrome, lordosis, scoliosis and forward head posture can lead to muscle imbalances, pinched nerves and other issues that cause chest, rib and sternum pain. Fortunately, these conditions are usually treatable.
Physical therapist Lara Heimann, who created the LYT Yoga Method, says that poor posture can create an imbalance in the muscles and neuromuscular firing.
“The muscles around the chest are shortened, and the muscles in the back are lengthened and weak. Chest pain can occur because of the tightened chest, neck and shoulder muscles and the surrounding shortened connective tissue, leading to discomfort,” she says.
Dr. Candy says that poor posture, such as slouching while sitting at our desks, can also cause imbalances between the muscles on the front of the ribcage (chest muscles and serratus anterior) and the back of the ribcage (rhomboids and serratus posterior superior).
“Those imbalances can cause a rib to move slightly out of place, which can put stress on the cartilage that joins your rib to your sternum,” he says. “This type of chest pain is referred to as costochondritis, meaning inflammation of the rib cartilage.”
Referred neck pain
Chest pain can also come in the form of referred neck pain, especially for those who sit with a forward head posture.
“When you sit with your head forward, it puts your neck muscles under tension. The scalene muscles attach to your first and second ribs and have a referral pattern that goes into the chest and sometimes down the arm,” Dr. Candy says.
Pinched upper back nerves
Pinched nerves in the upper back can cause chest pain when you have poor posture, particularly if you have a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease – both of which can be caused by a postural condition known as kyphosis, or hunchback.
“The thoracic nerves refer pain in a circle around the trunk and can cause chest pain,” Dr. Candy explains. “In the case of a herniated disc, slouching may make the pain worse. In the case of degenerative disc disease, sitting up too straight may actually make the pain worse.”
Chest pain can also manifest from respiratory distress due to poor posture. In fact, multiple studies have shown that poor posture can significantly reduce lung capacity (National Library of Medicine). People with decreased lung capacity tend to breathe with their chest muscles instead of their diaphragms, creating sore, tight muscles that can impede the rib cage from fully expanding.
In addition, if you can only fill part of your lungs, you might struggle to get enough oxygen – especially when working out, which may cause chest pain.
“Poor posture can cause chest pain by compressing and straining the muscles in your chest, limiting the ability of your rib cage to expand and contract as needed. Specifically, poor posture can cause chest pain by putting excess strain on the intercostal muscles between your ribs,” says Dr. Sony Sherpa, a holistic practitioner who contributes to Nature’s Rise. “These muscles help you breathe, so if they become strained or compressed due to improper posture, it can lead to pain in your chest.”
Poor posture can even cause chest pain by affecting your blood pressure and your heart – a potentially serious long-term consequence of not correcting your posture.
“Poor posture can change the way that your body responds to stress. For example, when you sit or stand in a slouched position, your chest muscles are tightened and shortened, which can cause pain in your chest,” says Dr. Sherpa. “This is because these muscles are responsible for helping to regulate blood flow throughout your body, and when they become too tight, it can disrupt the flow of blood to your heart and other vital organs.”
Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS)
“A condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) can be the culprit of chest pain as well as numbness and tingling in an arm,” says Heimann, who explains that TOS compresses nerves and blood vessels in the upper chest.
She says that unlike angina pain – which is caused by an inadequate supply of oxygen to the heart – pain from thoracic outlet syndrome does not occur or increase with walking, but it typically increases when raising an arm.
Poor posture can compress the digestive tract, leading to heartburn and other digestive issues that are sometimes felt in the chest. Digestive tract problems caused by poor posture can create chest discomfort, just like heartburn is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
Precordial catch syndrome
Perhaps less common, though often alarming, precordial catch syndrome is caused by poor posture (Chiropractor Atlanta). The exact mechanism is uncertain, but it’s believed to be a pinched nerve or muscle strain in the chest. This condition is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
How to tell if your chest pain is from poor posture
The best advice is to see a doctor and rule out anything serious, such as cardiac or pulmonary conditions.
“Given the downside of misdiagnosing your own chest pain – dying from a heart attack – you should always get chest pain checked out, even if you’re fairly certain that it’s not something serious,” says Dr. Candy. “Seeing a professional about your chest pain will usually lead to a quicker resolution to the problem.”
Once you’ve ruled out anything serious, speak with a doctor specializing in posture, a chiropractor, or a physical therapist to help diagnose any postural issues that could be causing your chest pain. They can help you develop a treatment plan to correct your posture and alleviate chest pain. Of course, you can also implement posture correction practices at home.
How to fix chest pain from bad posture
Fix your posture, and you’ll likely reduce or eliminate your pain. Here are some ways to treat postural chest pain.
Exercises and stretches
“Postural exercises and corrective education are essential for improving posture and eliminating chest pain,” says Heimann, who recommends the following exercises and stretches.
1. Doorway stretch and strengthening
- Stand in a doorway with your arms at 90 degrees, like a field goal
- Place your forearms on the doorframe and lean forward to stretch the chest
- Keep your core muscles tight to stabilize the pelvis and ribs
- Hold for 30 seconds; repeat 3 to 5 times daily
- Stand in the doorway as in the stretch
- Lift your forearms away from the doorframe by squeezing your shoulder blades together without thrusting your ribs
- Hold for 10 seconds; repeat 10 times
2. Floor stretch and strengthening
- Lie on the floor, on your back, with your knees bent
- Reach your arms to the ceiling, then bring them overhead in line with your ears (without thrusting your ribs)
- Hold for 20 seconds; repeat 2 to 3 times
- Lie on the floor as before and reach your arms to the ceiling
- Make fists and bend your elbows to press into the floor
- Pull your shoulder blades up toward your chest without thrusting your rubs
- Hold for 10 seconds; repeat 10 times
3. Bed stretch and strengthening
- Lie on your bed with your head draped over the edge yet still supported at the base of the skull
- Keep your knees bent to maintain length in the spine
- “Goalpost” your arms, pulling the back of your arms into the bed
- Roll your head side to side to mobilize the restricted tissues around your neck and stretch your chest
- Repeat for one minute
- Prop yourself on your elbows as you lie on a bed
- Press your hands into the bed to lift your elbows off the bed
- Slowly bend your elbows to return them to the bed (like a triceps dip)
- Keep your chest open and prevent your rib cage from thrusting
- Repeat 10 times
These yoga poses can help alleviate postural chest pain.
1. Child’s pose
2. Warrior 1 pose
4. Bow pose
5. Cat/cow pose
Posture correctors gently retract your shoulders and provide physiological feedback that reminds you to stop slouching, which in turn can alleviate chest pain.
“Posture correctors work, especially if they are worn diligently,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg, DC, CSCS, who owns and operates Body Check Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation in Scottsdale, AZ. He works with elite athletes from the NFL, MLB, NHL, USA Track and Field, NCAA and high school. “The more consistent you can be with wearing it, the more significant change will follow.”
Posture correctors come in a variety of forms, materials and styles. It’s essential to choose a posture corrector that’s proven to be effective and that’s comfortable enough for you to wear, either over or under clothes, and it’s a good idea to choose a posture corrector that doctors endorse.
“The most common and most beneficial looks like a bra without the cups,” Dr. Tanneberg says. “You can tighten the upper straps enough to keep your head above your shoulders and your shoulder blades depressed (down and back).”
Of course, you can’t expect posture correctors to do all the work. The ultimate goal is to reinforce proper posture so that, eventually, you won’t need to wear a posture corrector at all.
“Stretching and strengthening will not fully improve your posture if there is no carryover into everyday life. Using a postural correction device or brace can help bridge the gap between postural training and combating habitual compensations,” says Heimann. “A postural device can be especially helpful when working at a desk for long periods as attention to posture may wane. Any kind of postural device is a supplement to postural training exercises.”
Posture apps can help you improve your posture – and therefore reduce or eliminate chest pain – in one of four ways:
- Posture exercises, stretches and yoga apps
- Periodic reminders to maintain your posture
- Posture analysis apps that use your phone’s cameras or other sensors to assess postural conditions
- Slouch detectors, which use your desktop or laptop camera to monitor your posture and alert you when you slouch
Therapeutic massage can reduce chest pain caused by poor posture. It may be wise to seek a massage therapist who works with a physical therapist or chiropractor who is familiar with postural issues.
Doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists
Medical professionals can assess your postural conditions and work with you to outline a plan to improve your posture and eliminate chest pain.
“With the help of a healthcare professional, you can develop a personalized plan for improving your posture and reducing the risk of chest pain,” says Dr. Sherpa.
Understand why poor posture causes chest pain and remain mindful of your posture throughout the day. This type of self-help can go a long way toward improving your posture and eliminating pain.
- Dr. Sherpa recommends the following practices:
- Adjust your sitting and standing position so you don’t slouch
- Use a chair with good back support and keep your shoulders aligned over your hips
- Take regular breaks from sitting or standing for long periods
- Exercise regularly to strengthen your core and chest muscles
- Practice stress relief techniques such as deep breathing or meditation
“There has to be a conscious mental effort to change the posture and work on keeping the shoulder blades down and back all the time,” says Dr. Tannenberg. “Bad posture is habitual, so in order to fix the problem, we have to create new good habits. Once you develop the proper muscle memory of that position, then you don’t have to make as much of a conscious effort.”
If you’re experiencing chest pain, consult a medical professional to rule out anything serious. Once you’ve confirmed that the pain is caused by poor posture, use a combination of exercises, stretches, yoga, a posture corrector, massage and physical therapy to improve your posture, sit up straight, and eliminate your postural chest pain.Looking for a lightweight, comfortable, stylish posture corrector that works? Try BackEmbrace!