In today’s work-oriented, tech-centric world, poor posture is significant issue that can cause discomfort and pain, concerns over appearance, and even long-term health consequences. Indeed, poor posture is a leading cause of back pain that affects more than 80% of Americans at some point in their lives. The good news is you can correct your posture, relieve pain, improve your appearance and avoid long-term complications with the right posture correction regimen.
Before you can do that, though, you need to know what good posture means. This guide shows you how to have good posture plus offers chiropractor-approved tips for posture improvement.
- What is good posture?
- Good versus bad posture
- Why it’s important
- Risks of bad posture
- What causes bad posture?
- Does posture differ between men and women?
- Situational posture
- Why does good posture hurt?
- How to improve your posture
What is good posture?
Proper posture depends on the activity, because it differs whether you’re sitting, standing, walking, running or working. In addition, “good” posture doesn’t mean the same thing for every person, especially from an aesthetic perspective.
“After seeing hundreds of thousands of patients, you find that there isn’t a perfect postural position,” says Dr. A.J. Plese, D.C., a chiropractor at Priester Chiropractic in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Dr. Plese says that many people associate the word “posture” with “appearance,” but posture is more accurately a measure of how strong and durable your secondary and tertiary muscles are to maintain sound biomechanics.
“This is where motion comes into play. You can look as though you have the worst posture in the world, yet be stable and pain-free throughout life,” he says. “Posture must be looked at as an unseen innate process rather than judging the outward projection as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
That said, there are general posture guidelines many experts recommend for various situations.
- Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your knees and hips at roughly 90-degree angles
- Keep your chin and thighs parallel to the floor (it’s OK if your knees are slightly lower than your hips)
- Tuck your tummy, expand your chest and retract your shoulder blades
- If you’re working on a computer, keep your eyes at screen level
- Stand straight but don't lock your knees
- Tuck your tummy, expand your chest and retract your shoulders
- Keep your ears aligned with your shoulders, not out in front of them
The human body isn’t meant to sit or stand in one position all day long, even if you’re following best practices. Dynamic posture means to consistently change your position (without slouching), take routine breaks to stretch and walk, and otherwise keep moving throughout the day.
“The majority of people are stagnant throughout their lives, which weakens muscles, joints and neurologic input to those areas. This is why starting a [posture] regimen is difficult for so many,” says Dr. Plese. “The body craves motion. The more input we give our bodies, the better we feel, and, surprisingly, the more we want to move and do the things we used to avoid.”
Good posture versus bad posture
Though posture isn’t just about appearance, there are often signs that someone’s posture might be causing them pain, decreased range of motion, or other issues.
For example, a hunchback appearance could suggest that a person has kyphosis, or forward head posture could suggest someone has tech neck. A protruding belly and exaggerated curve in the lower spine could represent hyperlordosis.
Why good posture is important
There are many benefits to maintaining proper posture, including:
- Pain relief, especially in the back, neck and chest. Good posture can also reduce or eliminate headaches caused by poor posture
- Greater flexibility and range of motion
- Decreased injury risk
- Improved body perception and aesthetics, as people who maintain good posture often appear taller and slimmer
- Increased confidence
- More energy
- Improved balance
- Better exercise form
- Avoidance of long-term consequences of bad posture (more on this below)
“Good posture, or rather, strong stabilizing muscles, is important because without it, it can lead to biomechanical dysfunction,” says Dr. Plese. “Dysfunction over time can lead to changes the body doesn’t like, which lead to other cascades of events causing issues all the way to the cellular level. Osteoarthritis, normal wear and tear, is what most people think of under these circumstances. Enlarged knuckles, humpbacks and rigidity are the visual risks of prolonged biomechanical change. The internal risks are an increase in inflammation, stagnicity and the possibility of irreversible cellular damage.”
Risks of bad posture
Risks associated with bad posture include pain, inflammation, and cellular damage. Over time, you could develop a posture condition such as hunchback, tech neck, lordosis, kyphosis or forward head posture. Those conditions can lead to additional complications such as:
- Tension headaches
- Joint pain
- Respiratory issues
- Herniated, bulging discs
- Muscle strain and spasms
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Pinched nerves, numbness, tingling
- Balance issues
- Compressed blood vessels
- Chest pain
People with poor posture may also have an increased injury risk and lack confidence due to perceived aesthetic issues such as potbelly and a shorter appearance.
What causes bad posture?
Poor posture can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Technology, especially when looking down at mobile devices
- Muscle weakness
- Excess weight
Does proper posture differ between men and women?
Some research suggests that men and women should have slightly different postures. This is because the center of gravity for most men is located near the chest, while the center of gravity for most women is near the pelvis. Gender may also have an influence on spine, hip, knee and ankle motion.
Posture correctors for women: Stylish posture braces that can be worn over or under clothing
However, that doesn’t mean the best posture for men and women are significantly different. Gender comparisons are too broad when there are so many individual factors to consider.
“Posture is posture. We all, for the most part, have 216-ish bones and 600-ish muscles. At the end of the day, humans have the same biomechanics. We are a system of levers that exert force to cause motion. The levers may be different lengths and sizes, and exert different forces, but a lever system is a lever system,” says Dr. Plese.
He adds that generalized differences in gender size factor into how posture affects the human body over time. For example, men are generally larger and exert more force on their bodies, which can lead to more degenerative changes.
Posture correctors for men: Stay active with lightweight posture braces that are comfortable under clothing
“Regardless, the key or special consideration for both parties is motion. Exercise is always one of the most valuable tools against morbidity and all causes of mortality across the board,” he says. “Movement is life, and every person should have some sort of resistance training implemented into their routine.”
There are some situations where extra consideration can help reinforce good posture and strong, stable muscles.
For example, it’s often best to sleep on your side rather than your back or stomach, and it’s better to hold phones and books at eye level than crane your neck to play a game or read.
Proper ergonomics – at work and at home – are also key to good posture, strength and stability.
“Twenty-first century ergonomics have us sitting longer and putting our bodies into biomechanically unfavorable positions for a prolonged time. Again, dysfunction over time leads to issues,” says Dr. Plese.
- Taking regular breaks from computers and cell phones
- Standing up and walking 5 to 7 minutes every hour to reset your body from chronic sitting
- Creating an ergonomic workspace with an ergonomic mouse, foam wrist pads and proper screen placement
Why does good posture hurt?
With practice, good posture should feel normal and pain-free. However, training muscles to maintain proper posture can be uncomfortable at first because you’re not used to it. Just like training for a marathon, your muscles will get sore, but the pain will subside as you build muscle strength.
If trying to maintain proper posture causes severe pain, or mild pain doesn’t subside after a few weeks, consult a doctor to ensure there aren’t any underlying issues that need to be addressed.
How to improve your posture
If you feel your posture is out of whack – or if you simply want to maintain your posture – follow these tips for success.
1. Add posture exercises, stretches and yoga to your routine
Exercises, stretches and yoga designed to keep you moving and strengthen postural muscles are some of the best practices you can implement.
“Motion will strengthen the body and help prevent injuries associated with dysfunctional biomechanics,” advises Dr. Plese. “I give my patients only a few, basic exercises to perform through their day, which is generally enough to stabilize the issues we’re dealing with.”
Once stabilized, Dr. Plese adds more advanced motion patterns to his patients’ routines, starting slow and building over time to encourage patients to follow through with their prescribed regimens.
2. Posture correctors
Posture correctors gently retract your shoulders and align your spine to train you to maintain a more neutral posture over time. The more you wear a posture corrector, the more accustomed you’ll become to holding good posture, so that, eventually, you won’t need the corrector to remind you.
“Posture aids can play a role in stabilizing chronic issues,” says Dr. Plese. “We are a stagnant population, and many of us need an easy way to jumpstart a routine. Posture support can help individuals slowly reset their map of how their body should move and sit in space. Giving your body the stimulus needed through bracing can help the joints and muscles function correctly, which, over time, can help to reduce pain and fatigue on the body.”
Look for a quality posture corrector made from durable materials. Some models feature stylish patterns that can be worn over clothing, yet are still lightweight enough to be comfortably worn under clothing.
3. Chiropractic care and physical therapy
A good chiropractor can diagnose posture issues and outline a treatment strategy to put your spine back in alignment. Even if you think you have perfect posture, a chiropractor can confirm that and help you maintain good posture as you age.
“Manual manipulation and myofascial release techniques will, over time, restore proper biomechanics and maintain them,” says Dr. Plese. “Everyone follows the advice of dentists to brush our teeth to maintain them. Why do we not follow the advice of biomechanical experts to have our bodies manipulated to maintain our muscles and joints?”
Many chiropractors also work with physical therapists who can help you learn new exercises with proper form.
An ergonomic workstation can help you fix your posture at work. Wrist pads, ergonomic chairs, and proper screen heights go a long way toward preventing slouching that can lead to posture conditions and pain. If you’re at a screen most of the day, you can also consider a slouch detector app that instantly alerts you if you start to slip.
Finally, practicing mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to have good posture. No matter what you’re doing – sitting, standing, reading, playing on your phone, walking, running, driving, or working – consider how you’re holding and moving your body, and continually remind yourself to hold good posture and move throughout the day.Looking for a lightweight, comfortable, stylish posture corrector that works? Try BackEmbrace!