Bad posture is a surprisingly common issue, with back and shoulder pain being one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. It’s particularly common in those whose lives feature repetitive actions, or those who spend long periods of time sat down.
Luckily, many of the issues associated with bad posture can be treated with exercise or corrective equipment, and rarely result in surgery. Here is a list of the 4 most common posture problems, and how to fix them.
What Are The Symptoms Of Bad Posture?
The symptoms of bad posture are quite varied, and because everyone’s back curves differently, many people won’t experience them all. Bad posture is usually a gradual problem, with people developing bad habits as they age.
These will be things like slouching when sitting, or not picking your feet up properly when you walk. Over time, they result in muscles tensing and shortening, and joints become worn in the wrong places. If you catch them early enough, you can make lifestyle adjustments to prevent any further issues.
The most common symptoms of bad posture are:
- Back pain (most commonly the lower back)
- Pain in the knees/hips
- Knees pointing inwards when you stand
- Rounded shoulders
- Neck pain
- General aches and pains
- The feeling of sticking your stomach out when you stand
Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, and it will depend entirely on the issues with your posture. There are some quick tests you can do that will give you an idea of your posture problems. Once you have worked this out, you can take the appropriate steps to correct them.
The 4 Most Common Posture Problems
Rounded shoulders are commonly caused by bad habits when sitting, and are most common in people that hunch over a computer all day. They can also result from an imbalance of exercises, such as focusing on your chest and not your back.
Sitting at a computer all day causes your chest muscles to tighten, gradually rotating your shoulders inwards. This results in back shoulder and back pain as the muscles tighten and stretch out of their correct positions. Luckily they are one of the easiest posture problems to solve.
How To Identify
It’s really easy to test for rounded shoulders. All you need to do is stand in front of a mirror holding an object in each hand. A pen or pencil is the best, but anything of a similar shape will do.
Relax your shoulders and look at which direction the pens are facing. If they face straight on, then your shoulders are absolutely fine. However, if the pens face towards each other, then you have rounded shoulders.
How To Fix
The easiest way to fix rounded shoulders is to reset how you sit on a chair. When you sit down, roll your shoulders a few times and pull them back slightly, until it feels like you’re pushing your chest out.
This is closer to where your shoulders should sit when they’re not internally rotated. This is easy to maintain using an ergonomic desk that, particularly one that provides lumbar support. Keep reminding yourself of the correct way to hold your shoulders every time you sit down until it becomes a natural habit.
This might take a while, considering you’re having to undo muscle memory, but you can make it easier with the following exercises:
- Seated Rows
- Chest/upper back exercises and weight lifting
Also known as kyphotic posture. This is very similar to rounded shoulders, but affects your upper back and neck. Hunchback is typically caused by sitting in a poor position, looking down at your phone too long, and leaning over a desk.
It also happens to people who stare down at their phone for too long, as this results in the same repetitive strain as any other action. As you sit for long periods of time, your chest muscles tighten and pull your neck down, causing your upper back (thoracic spine) to curve.
Over time, this also causes the muscles in your upper back to stretch and weaken. This obviously only makes the problem worse, and can lead to a vicious cycle.
How To Identify
Hunchback is another common posture problem that’s easy to identify. If you want to be technical, it’s when your upper back is curved at greater than a 40-45 degree angle. The easiest way to identify it is to have someone take a picture of you from the side while you’re standing in a relaxed position.
Look at when your back seems to curve, as if you’re hunching forwards. If you are, and it looks like your head is not in line with your body, then you have a hunchback.
How To Fix
Luckily, hunchback can also be fixed by adjusting the way you sit or stand, and by altering your office equipment. Make sure your computer screen is in the correct position, and that your eyes are level with the top.
If it’s too low, it’ll cause you to hunch. Get a monitor booster to lift it up, or lower your chair if it’s too high. When you sit, make sure you lengthen your neck as you tuck in your chin.
This will straighten your back into the correct position. You can also fix hunchback with the same exercises are rounded shoulders, or you can try foam rolling.
Over-Pronated Feet(Flat Feet)
Pronation refers to your foot’s natural movement when you walk or run. It’s the act of the weight transferring from your heel to the ball of your foot as you take a stride. Over-pronation is when your feet roll inwards towards the arches, and leads to weak arches and leg pain.
Over time, it can result in damage to your knee and hip joints, which might require surgery. The most common causes of over-pronation are improper footwear, repetitive and excessive force when walking or running, pregnancy, and obesity.
How To Identify
To test for over-pronation, hold one hand on each side of your ankle, about an inch away. Straighten your ankle so that the space between your hands is equal, and then relax. If your leg and ankle rolls towards the hand on the inside of your leg, then you have over-pronated feet.
How To Fix
If you catch the problem early enough, you can correct any issues by wearing orthotics in your shoes, or choosing footwear with good arch support. Orthotics can be bought over the counter, but if your case is severe then they will have to be prescription. Another way to help the issue is to run or walk barefoot whenever possible.
Anterior pelvic tilt results from your hip flexors becoming short and tight. This usually occurs from sitting for too long and not stretching, which causes the muscles to constrict. As with any other common posture problem, muscles eventually tighten and weaken, adjusting to an incorrect position.The worse the issue gets, the tighter the muscles become and the harder it is to fix. A hip tilt causes pain in the groin and lower back, and will lead to other issues in your neck and shoulders.
How To Identify
You can test for a pelvic tilt by lying on a flat surface with your legs dangling over the edge. Lift one knee up to your chest and hold it there, while trying to keep your other leg flat on the surface. If it does stay flat, your hips are fine, but if you feel yourself needing to raise it or roll your hips, then you’ve likely got an anterior pelvic tilt.
Alternatively, you can try pushing your hips up as far as you can while standing. When you relax, notice what position your hips naturally stop at. If it feels like they’re still raised slightly, then they’re probably tilting.
How To Fix
You can fix a hip tilt using static lunges, or any other exercise that stretches your thigh and hip muscles. You can also try yoga, as this will improve your overall flexibility. If you work a desk job, consider buying an ergonomic chair, and consciously making the effort to get up as often as possible and stretch.
Pay particular attention to your hips, but make sure you stretch your shoulders too. Resolving the issue can be as simple as 10 minutes of stretching a day.
Back and muscle pain resulting from bad posture is all too common a problem, and can usually be fixed with some lifestyle adjustments and simple exercises. The most important thing to remember is that it will take time to correct poor posture, as you have to re-teach your muscles the correct behavior.
Luckily, there are loads of great office and exercise devices specifically designed to correct your posture, and you can pick up new exercises such as yoga. The earlier you catch any posture issues, the easier they will be to fix.