Slouching is a global epidemic, as many of us routinely slouch at our work desks, when lounging in front of the TV, while gaming, when driving, or when hunching over our devices. Unfortunately, slouching can cause pain, fatigue, and aesthetic issues, and even lead to long-term health complications.
The good news is you can stop slouching – at least most of the time – by taking a few proactive measures to retrain your body to maintain proper posture. Here’s doctor-approved advice on how to stop slouching.
- Quick Tips
- What is Slouching?
- Why Do You Slouch So Much?
- How to Stop Slouching
How to Stop Slouching: Quick Tips
- Learn and practice proper posture: Learn to sit and stand with proper posture, then put it in practice. Posture correctors can help
- Strengthen your postural muscles: Do posture exercises, stretches, and yoga to strengthen your core, back, and neck muscles, making it easier to sit and stand in a neutral position
- Be mindful of your posture: Set a timer or use a posture app to remind yourself to check your posture, consider a slouch detector, and ask others to remind you to sit and stand straight
- Move around: Take breaks every 30 minutes to stand up, stretch, and move around. Practice dynamic posture, where you switch positions frequently to avoid slouching
- Consult a doctor or physical therapist: If you struggle to stop slouching on your own, check with a chiropractor, doctor, or physical therapist to rule out an underlying condition
What is Slouching?
Slouching is when you sit or stand in a “dropped” or “hunched” manner. When you slouch, you fail to engage muscles that hold your body in proper, neutral posture – essentially, you’re allowing the effects of gravity to pull your body in any direction rather than using your muscles to sit and stand in an upright position.
“Slouching is defined by a rounded spine from the base of the neck down to the base of the spine with the pelvis flexed or tucked under; and the head is looking straight ahead leaving a ‘kink’ at both the base of the neck and skull (a.k.a. forward head posture),” says Dr. Richard Omel, D.C., a chiropractor and founder of Humoma, where he teaches patients to move better by improving structural and functional integrity. “This distorted configuration creates a collapsed ‘sunken’ chest and associated turn-in shoulder girdles/joints.”
Why Do You Slouch So Much?
Slouching doesn’t mean you’re lazy – rather, it’s often a function of one or more factors such as:
1. Environmental Factors
Dr. Omel says that poor ergonomics and prolonged sitting at poorly designed workstations can lead to slouching, especially when it comes to desk height, keyboard height, mouse position, and screen position relative to your body.
“These features can directly impact how the user’s body interacts with the workstation,” he says.
2. De-Conditioned Muscles
Poorly conditioned muscles that course across the torso, such as the corset of abdominal muscles that form a cylinder around the lower torso below the rib cage, chest muscles, and muscles between the shoulder blades can cause slouching. Slouching can also be caused by reconditioned hip flexors and even poor diaphragm control.
“What is interesting to note here is these de-conditioned tissues can be the cause and/or the effects of poor postural habits,” says Dr. Omel.
When you sit in the same position for a long period, your muscles get tired, so you stop engaging your postural muscles and allow gravity to take over.
“Muscle fatigue of the previously mentioned torso tissues is an outcome of maintaining the ‘slouched’ body position for extended periods of time. The slouch posture is the outcome of the adaptive process of prolonged sitting without awareness,” explains Dr. Omel. “It soon becomes the default sitting position, becoming the familiar, most comfortable position until it creates a painful, dysfunctional musculoskeletal condition such as lower back, neck, middle, back, or shoulder pain, to name a few.”
4. Lack of Awareness
We often tout mindfulness as a key factor in improving posture, and it’s that lack of mindfulness – or lack of awareness – that can lead to excessive slouching.
“In my opinion, at the heart of the slouch body position is a lack of body awareness. Most people don’t pay attention to their body position during daily activities such as walking, standing, bending, pushing, pulling, and lifting,” says Dr. Omel. “Since many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting, it is perhaps the main contributor towards the evolution of the slouch body position and is carried over into the other daily activities previously mentioned.”
5. Excessive Screen Time
Excessive screen time is another possible cause for your slouching, especially if you spend many hours daily craning your neck to view your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
“Our modern culture has us viewing some type of screen throughout the day,” says Dr. Omel. “Our tendency is to look down at them or poke our head forward to view them. Extended periods of time spent viewing screens in this manner lends to the quiet evolution of the familiar, comfortable body slouch position.”
Fortunately, you can work to improve your postural muscle strength, learn to sit and stand more efficiently, reduce fatigue, and practice mindfulness so your default position is good posture rather than slouching.
Dangers of Slouching
Slouching can cause multiple problems, including:
- Pain: When you slouch, your body rests in an unnatural position. This can place undue stress on your neck flexors, pecs, traps, and scapula, leading to muscle imbalances and causing pain in your head and back
- Aesthetic Issues: Over time, slouching can create aesthetic issues such as forward head posture, tech neck, and hunchback – and each carries its own aches, pains, and potential long-term health risks
- Short- and Long-Team Health Complications: Slouching – and poor posture in general – can lead to a host of complications, including:
- Respiratory issues
- Slowed digestion
- Circulatory issues
- Nerve issues
- Chest pain
- Slipped or bulging discs
- Increased injury risk
“The short-term risks of slouching include low grade discomfort and muscle fatigue through the shoulders, neck, base of the skull, and lower back,” says Dr. Omel. “This usually presents itself in the form of fidgeting. Many people will tend to ignore these important body cues to shift, change body position. These cues come in the form of muscular tension build up, a low-grade stiffness or soreness over a given group of muscles, such as the upper trap muscles at the base of the neck, the sub-occipital muscles at the base of the skull, and the muscles between the shoulder blades. This leads to deficient body awareness that evolves into long-term consequences.”
Dr. Omel adds that long-term, chronic slouching is often associated with muscular imbalances leading to de-conditioned and overactive musculature that causes chronic posture conditions and painful musculoskeletal conditions.
“This degenerative process can affect the spine by increasing the curvature of the middle back (thoracic spine kyphosis), reducing the curvature of the neck (cervical spine lordosis), increasing extension of the base of the skull (atlanto-occipital joint), and a reduction of the lower back curvature (lumbar spine lordosis),” he says. “Another long-term risk to slouching is compromise of the chest cavity. This affects lung function by limiting its capacity, making it difficult to breathe deeply.”
Benefits of Stopping Slouching
Stopping slouching – or at least limiting how much you slouch – can prevent pains, aesthetic issues, and long-term health complications. You’ll also gain core and postural strength, making it easier to perform functional tasks. You may also lower your risk of injury, increase flexibility, increase energy levels, and breathe better.
As your posture improves, you might also appear slimmer and taller, and you’ll appear more confident – and even feel more confident, as studies have shown that posture plays a significant role in self-perception as well as how others perceive you.
“Limiting slouching has the benefit of improving sitting posture. It is important to note that sitting with an ideal upright neutral spine all of the time is not the goal here. Having the capacity to recognize the subtle body cues of the initial onset of a slouch and at that moment in time responding by moving, repositioning the body towards the resting upright neutral sitting posture. This creates a ‘pumping’ activity,” says Dr. Omel.
“Think of a coiled wire spring compressing and decompressing, coiling and uncoiling. Sitting in this manner is a dynamic process that is necessary for sustaining structural and functional integrity of the body.”
Dr. Omel adds that improved posture is a benefit, an outcome of sitting dynamically, which reduces the risk of developing spinal issues such as functional scoliosis, premature osteoarthritis, spinal (vertebral) misalignment, and related muscular imbalances.
How to Stop Slouching
The advice to “sit and stand straight” is easier said than done – and it’s not really practical, because it doesn’t give you the tools to sit and stand straight consistently and comfortably. Follow these tips to train your body to stop slouching and to be mindful of your posture at work, at home, on the road, and at play.
1. Learn – and Practice – Proper Posture
Start by understanding what good, non-slouched posture looks and feels like:
- Head in neutral position, with ears over shoulders
- Shoulder blades retracted
- Chest expanded
- Spine naturally curved – pretend there is a string attached to your sternum, gently pulling it toward the sky
Then, practice good posture. View your posture in front of a mirror or ask for feedback from others who observe you at work and home.
Be sure to practice dynamic posture, as sitting in the same position at length can also cause issues.
“Sitting dynamically can alleviate the immediate discomfort associated with slouching. It can also, from a proactive perspective, prevent the onset of the many dysfunctional and painful musculoskeletal conditions often associated with slouching,” Dr. Omel says. “From an emotional/psychological perspective, sitting dynamically can project a more confident and competent image to others. Sitting with a dynamically upright, neutral posture has the benefit of allowing for full lung expansion and better breathing.”
Posture correctors can help. They work in two ways:
- Passive: Posture correctors gently retract your shoulder blades to help you sit and stand straight
- Active: They also train your body to adopt new muscle memory so that, over time, you won’t need to wear the corrector
“Posture correctors are devices or garments designed to support and encourage good posture. They can help people learn to stop slouching by providing a reminder to maintain proper alignment,” says Dr. Omel. “I would advise that before using one of these that one have an understanding of how good body posture looks and feels.”
He adds that posture correctors should be used as complements to, not replacements for, exercises and lifestyle changes that promote better posture.
“Posture correctors can be beneficial for individuals who have difficulty maintaining good posture on their own,” he says. “Think of them as a tool to assist you towards learning and developing the skills to manage your body posture on your own. It is a similar experience as using training wheels to learn how to ride a bike.”
Be sure to get a posture corrector that’s recommended by doctors and that fits your lifestyle, as they won’t work if you won’t wear them. Posture correctors work for both men and women, and some are stylish enough to be worn over clothes yet lightweight and comfortable enough to be worn under clothes.
2. Strengthen Your Postural Muscles
You should also work on strengthening your postural muscles through a combination of exercises, stretches, and/or yoga.
“Make the effort to improve the condition of your core musculature. This can first be done by learning to engage these muscles through the appropriate exercises,” says Dr. Omel, who recommends planks, rows, single leg balancing exercises, cross crawling, and spinal waves on the floor. “This is to help you become familiar with how these muscles feel while they are actively engaged. Be sure to pay attention to how these muscles feel while engaged.”
Recommended floor exercises:
Next, Dr. Omel says you should learn to engage your core muscles while you’re in an upright position.
Recommended upright exercises:
- Spinal waves
- Spinal circles
- Sitting upright cross crawl while alternating the opposing arm and leg to transfer core activation
“Integrate exercises throughout your day that are designed to improve your body posture, that are commonly utilized in yoga and Pilates,” he says. “These exercises are great at assisting you in linking your breath with the activation of your core musculature. Keep in mind when doing any form of exercise pay attention to what you are doing, notice what regions of your body are activated during the exercise and how other regions of your body are responding. Once you have this kinesthetic awareness/understanding, play with it by trying other ways of moving or positioning that activate these muscles/tissues.”
3. Be Mindful of Your Posture
Practicing mindfulness can help you avoid slouching – and correct it when you catch yourself slouching.
“We all must pay attention to the subtle body cues that relate to body position at any given point in time. To do this, one must first know what components make up the resting upright neutral body position,” says Dr. Omel. “These components are the pelvis, spine, and head. Develop the skill to recognize when these components have shifted away from neutral and then ‘on demand’ shift these components back toward the resting neutral body position. This is dynamic sitting, it’s having the capacity to move in and out of structural balance.”
Here are some tips for postural mindfulness:
- Set a timer or use a posture app to remind yourself to check your posture
- Consider using a slouch detector when you’re sitting at your desktop or laptop computer (slouch detectors use webcams to monitor your posture, then alert you when you slouch
- Ask family members, friends, and coworkers to remind you to stop slouching
You also need to be mindful of your environment and how it can contribute to slouching.
“Notice how your immediate environment is impacting your body position. Manipulating elements within a given environment to assist your body in adapting better structural and functional balance is what is referred to as ergonomics,” says Dr. Omel. “Appropriately adjusting the elements within your workspace, such as your keyboard, screen, mouse, chair, and desk, helps to establish better body structural relationships that translate into the resting upright neutral body position.”
4. Move Around
Movement is key to maintaining good posture, flexibility, and body function. Get up and move at least every 30 minutes, even if it’s just to stretch or get a drink of water.
You should also practice dynamic posture, as discussed. While there are guidelines for proper posture, it’s also important to change positions frequently. Changing positions helps prevent the muscle fatigue that leads to slouching in the first place.
“Taking frequent breaks by standing up and stretching and walking around periodically is something that can also help mitigate the negative effects of being sedentary for extended periods of time,” says Dr. Omel.
5. Consult a Doctor or Physical Therapist
If you’ve tried to stop slouching but routinely catch yourself doing it anyway – or if it’s painful to sit with proper posture – consult a chiropractor, doctor, or physical therapist. You might have an underlying postural issue or other condition that is causing you to slouch.
Your healthcare provider can outline a treatment plan to help you stop slouching, and they might be able to help you hold yourself accountable for following the plan with regular checkups.
Follow these tips to stop slouching and enjoy the many benefits that come along with it, including your overall health.
“It’s important to note that maintaining good posture is essential for overall health and wellbeing,” says Dr. Omel. “Managing your body posture relates to learning how to manage your body ‘movement’ throughout daily and recreational activities. It is important that one create a movement management strategy that enrolls an eclectic mix of movement phrases and perspectives that assist one in the development of their own personal daily movement practice that supports and sustains the structural and functional integrity of the body throughout their lifetime.”