How does posture affect back pain?

Brian Yee
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

The way you sit and stand significantly affects your back. Especially for prolonged duration, the tissues around the spine experience what clinicians call 'creep phenomenon.'

Think of a cold piece of taffy. As you hold it, warm it up, and then hold it by its ends, it slowly stretches and lengthens. Very similarly, the tissues in the back can due the same thing. The fascia, muscles, nerve, joints all experience increased strain when the spine is statically held in one position for a long duration of time.

When you then place yourself in a poorly sitting or standing posture, that then accentuates the amount of tissue loading that is placed on the spine and its surrounding tissues. The 'creep phenomenon' is then accelerated and tissue breakdown and injury can occur quicker.

Correctly changing your postures can significantly place less stress on your spine.

Please consult with an appropriate practitioner to discuss proper ergonomics/postures.

Good posture promotes strong core muscles. Bad posture? Well, let's just say it teaches your muscles to crumble like a cookie. This goes not only for standing, but for sitting, as well. It's also worth noting that you should be aware of your posture whenever you use any exercise equipment, like stationary bikes or stair climbers. Correct posture should be practiced with your back against a wall. Tucking your chin slightly will allow a larger area of the back of your head to touch the wall as well as the top of your back, your buttocks, and legs. The small of the back should not be against the wall (the spine is naturally curved). Pretend a string attached to the top of your skull is pulling you skyward and feel yourself becoming taller. When you're standing for a long time, elevate one foot on a step or curb to help alleviate some pressure. And if you're sitting for a long time, put your feet up on a stool, so you knees are higher than your hips; that will decrease the pressure on the discs in your lower back. You can also get a small kid's ball, rolled-up towel, or bag of frozen peas (wrapped in plastic and used for only 20 minutes) to place in the small of your back for some additional lumbar support when sitting.

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Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy Specialist

Some people's posture is too erect while others' are too slouching. Both can contribute to back pain. Often these variations in posture have more to do with our idea of how we should be standing or sitting, or at least what we think is more comfortable. Because our posture is something we adopt unconsciously, we are unaware of the very significant consequences our posture has on our spine. 

Both extremes mean certain muscles have become short or long and others have become weak. These same muscles indirectly, but significantly, affect the shape, movement, and forces acting on your spine.

To prevent low back pain when you stand, stand tall. Slouching or slumping puts strain on the spine and causes it to curve unnaturally. Look sideways into a full-length mirror to make sure that the top of your head lines up straight with your shoulders, your hips and your ankles. When standing for a long time, most people automatically put most of their weight on just one leg. Remember to shift your weight often from one leg to the other. If your job requires standing, use a footstool to rest first one foot and then the other.

Sue Hitzmann
Fitness Specialist

Our posture affects back pain in many ways; from the way we sit to the shoes we wear, we all have unhealthy habits. Watch fitness expert Sue Hitzmann, MS/CST/NMT, discuss how to be more aware of posture, and how to improve it daily to prevent pain.

Over time poor posture takes a tremendous toll on not only your back but your whole body. Besides causing pain it can lead to joint problems and reduced flexibility, which limits your body’s ability to move efficiently.  If you often sit in a slouched, forward head, rounded shoulder posture, it will eventually strain the back enough to cause pain. The spine itself is just bones (vertebrae) tacked on top of one another with a jelly-like disc that is cushioned in between. The disc is surrounded by a tough fibrous tissue.  When you sit in a forward flexed posture, the fluid in the discs can protrude out of the fibrous tissue against nerves and cause pain.

Your posture can be improved by strengthening the right mucsles and lengthening the others. Consult with a fitness professional to get appropriate exercises.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.