How Posture Affects Neurological and Cognitive Function

How Posture Affects Neurological and Cognitive Function

Most of us know poor posture can cause back and neck pain, aesthetic issues like hunchback, and even long-term health complications like arthritis. However, many don’t know that posture also has a direct effect on neurological and cognitive function. 

In fact, between long hours at desk jobs and constantly looking down at our devices, modern lifestyles have put nearly all of us at risk of posture-related neurological and cognitive problems. 

The following details the relationship between posture and neurocognitive function and offers tips to prevent posture-related neurocognitive issues.


  • How Posture Affects Neurological and Cognitive Function
  • Neurological and Cognitive Issues Caused by Poor Posture
  • Symptoms of Neurological and Cognitive Issues Caused by Poor Posture
  • Neurological and Cognitive Benefits of Good Posture
  • Strategies to Improve Cognitive and Neurological Function with Proper Posture

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How Posture Affects Neurological and Cognitive Function

Posture affects neurological and cognitive function via the brain’s salient network, which responds to biofeedback, and various physiological mechanisms that influence intellectual performance, emotions, mental outlook, and memory. 

  • Study participants who slouched rated a math test significantly more difficult than those who did not slouch (NeuroRegulation). The authors concluded that proper posture improves performance under stress, while slouching inhibits clear thought (Indian Journal of Medical Specialists)
  • Another study found that poor posture can cause a stress response that impedes performance (Scientific Research)
  • Research has shown that people with forward head posture have abnormal sensorimotor control and autonomic nervous system dysfunction (Gait & Posture)
  • One study found that standing significantly decreases attention and executive function, while sitting improves cognitive performance (Applied Ergonomics). However, another study found that standing may enhance cognitive control and attentional selectivity – though standing in more demanding postures may impair cognitive performance (Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics)

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Posture and the Salience Network

Dr. Justin Dearing is a functional neurologist and chiropractor who co-founded The Dearing Clinic in Brentwood, Tennessee. He says posture affects the salience network, which is responsible for consciousness and constantly evaluates environmental cues and biofeedback to increase our chances of survival in any given situation. 

“The salience network is basically our consciousness network. It consists of all areas that make our nervous system self-reflective, able to switch attention to pertinent tasks, and weigh the value of stimuli, positive or negative,” Dr. Dearing says. 

Postural muscle tone in the spine correlates with the “midline” neurological functions of the brain. The middle brainstem shares a deep connection with the cerebellum, which controls the body’s hardwired reflexes, and it monitors postural response as a survival mechanism. The cerebellum is at work when you slip on a banana peel and reflexively extend your arm to catch yourself. 

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Good posture, then, tells the salience network all is well in the world, while poor posture signals a potential threat and causes a stress response. 


“Our postural readiness is constantly under evaluation by the brain. If we’re curled up into a ball all the time on our computer and phone, we’re signaling to the brain that we’re hiding from a tiger and we need stress hormones,” Dr. Dearing says. “Combine that with stress from the job, on that computer, and the brain responds like there’s a tiger. This increases muscle tension everywhere, specifically in the neck and shoulders, the place we all carry our stress.”

The salience network directly influences psychological and physiological response, emotional expression, and mental outlook for success.

“With good postural tone, our conscious awareness – salience network – is primed and ready for anything that comes at us,” Dr. Dearing says.

Other Physiological Mechanisms

Posture also influences neurological and cognitive function by affecting:

  • Blood flow to the brain
  • Neural transmission
  • Cerebrospinal fluid flow

Poor posture can restrict each of these and lead to short-term and long-term neurological and cognitive issues. 

An image that depicts the correlation between posture and blood flow to the brain,

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Neurological and Cognitive Issues Caused by Poor Posture

Posture stimulates the brain’s awareness and attention systems – the salience network – influencing emotional response, cognition, and memory. Poor posture can have a negative effect on these neurocognitive areas.

For example, if you hold your neck straight instead of in its natural curve, your neck joints, tendons, and ligaments won’t provide as much feedback as they should to the brain’s vestibular and temporal lobes. Moreover, shortened muscles diminish rich sensory stimulation to brainstem neurons and the brain cortex. 

Someone with tech neck looking at their phone

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That can cause a problematic chain reaction because:

  • The temporal lobes are responsible for encoding and retrieving memory, timing, and rhythm
  • The vestibular systems stimulate timing and rhythm centers in the entorhinal cortex
  • The entorhinal cortex is responsible for maintaining the oscillations of the hippocampus, the short-term memory storage center
  • The hippocampus produces growth hormone and is intimately connected with the hypothalamus, which directs growth hormone release that stimulates the production of new neuron networks

In other words, poor posture disrupts the very mechanisms required to commit new information to memory. 

“This is the mechanism behind studies that show walking after studying helps retain the information studied better than if you didn’t take that walk,” says Dr. Dearing. “Also, studies show that implementing a walking routine for those with dementia helps to preserve the volume of the hippocampus, slowing the dementia progression. I would argue that walking with good posture makes that memory stimulation better.”


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In addition to disrupting the salience network, poor posture can:

  • Restrict blood flow to the brain, causing brain fog and difficulty processing information
  • Create tension in the spinal canal and brainstem, so critical neurons don’t communicate as well and slowly lose touch with the body
  • Disturb cerebrospinal fluid flow, so the body can’t bathe the brain with fluid that nourishes the tissue and carries away wastes that accumulate and lead to neurodegenerative disease

“Restricted blood flow and disturbed cerebrospinal fluid flow impacts the entire brain by reducing nerve and neuron connections, making the processor, the pattern recognition, and goal-achieving machine less efficient,” says Dr. Dearing. “We’re not saying this causes dementia directly, but it is certainly a contributing factor to the brain not operating properly. It muddies the water of function in multiple areas, including metabolic, blood flow with oxygen, and stimulation.”

Symptoms of Neurological and Cognitive Issues Caused by Poor Posture

You might experience some of the following symptoms if poor posture is causing neurological and cognitive issues:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating (brain fog)
  • Chronic neck pain and shoulder tension
  • Wear and tear of joints in the spine that lead to arthritis
  • Bulging discs and nerve compression
  • Tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness

Of course, these symptoms can have other causes, so if you’re experiencing them, be sure to get evaluated by a qualified doctor.

Someone with poor posture experiencing a headache

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Neurological and Cognitive Benefits of Good Posture

The good news is good posture offers significant neurological and cognitive benefits. Proper posture can improve:

  • Cognition and executive function
  • Memory
  • Processing speed
  • Mental clarity
  • Emotional response
  • Performance

Good posture can also alleviate pain, improve range of motion, increase self-confidence, and potentially play a role in preventing dementia. 

Someone standing with good posture (perhaps confident posture)

Your goal, then, should be to train your body to maintain proper posture with a full range of motion to influence neurological and cognitive health.

“Pain-free range of motion is critical for blood flow and cerebrospinal fluid flow to crucial areas of the brain involving cognitive and executive function, memory, and processing of all types,” says Dr. Dearing. 

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Strategies to Improve Cognitive and Neurological Function with Proper Posture

Consider the following strategies to improve (and preserve) cognitive and neurological function with proper posture. 

Postural Strengthening and Awareness

Exercises, stretches, and consistent mindfulness can strengthen your postural muscles and improve awareness to help you maintain proper posture while sitting, standing, running, driving, and working. 

“At The Dearing Clinic, no matter what the condition is that we’re treating, from concussion rehab to spine arthritis to depression and anxiety, a critical component of therapy involves postural strengthening and awareness exercises,” says Dr. Dearing. 

Someone doing posture stretches

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Posture Correctors

Posture correctors work by gently retracting your shoulder blades to help you find good posture. Then, they train your muscles to hold proper posture over time so that, eventually, you no longer need the brace. 

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“Using a postural brace allows us to relieve that balled-up feedback loop to the brain and trains our postural muscles to hold us there when we’re not wearing it. So, the effect for the brain is more of a training tool than a brace,” says Dr. Dearing.

Posture Corrector Before & After Photos and Stories

He says the most effective posture correctors are comfortable to wear. He also advises against devices with straps that cut across the collar bone, since they’re rigid, inflexible, and do not support shoulder blade position. Instead, he recommends a posture corrector that features a crossing sling. 


Get BackEmbrace, the Posture Corrector Recommended by Doctors

“The sling of tension that splits the front of the humoral head of the shoulder, connected with the crossing sling in the back, forces a natural shoulder blade position and therefore does what a posture corrector needs to do to provide support and, ultimately, awareness,” he says, adding that this style of posture corrector will eventually “strengthen the muscles that hold the shoulder blades in position naturally without having to think about it or force it.”

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Medical Care

Before starting an at-home regimen, you should always consult a qualified doctor who is familiar with the neurocognitive effects of posture. A physician such as Dr. Dearing, who is both a chiropractor and functional neurologist, is ideal, but any good chiropractor can diagnose your condition and outline a successful treatment strategy. 

A chiropractor adjusting a patient

Note that in addition to in-person treatments, Dr. Dearing offers an online course that teaches lifestyle changes for movement, posture, breathing, and diet resetting. 

If you’re concerned about your posture and how it might affect your neurocognitive function, take measures now to correct your posture, relieve short-term pain, and prevent long-term health complications.

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