7 Ways You Can Improve Posture and Ease Your Back Pain
How to improve posture and ease back pain
Back pain and poor posture can go hand in hand. Although there are many causes of back pain, poor posture can be one of them. If you want to improve your posture, strengthen your core muscles, and hopefully prevent or relieve back pain, here are some expert recommendations to get started.
Reduce “text neck”
If ever there were a reason to take a break from your smartphone, it’s the dreaded “text neck,” in which your neck juts out and down while viewing a small screen. “This is called forward head posture and it is absolutely terrible for your neck and your nervous system,” says Douglas Terry, DC, of Terry Chiropractic Boulder in Boulder, Colorado. “This posture stretches the spinal cord which can cause neck pain, disc degeneration, nerve impingement, and disease.” A study published in 2017 in Applied Ergonomics suggests that the effects in the neck and upper extremities are mostly short-term, and to a lesser extent, long term. The fix, luckily, is easy. Simply bring your phone up to eye level. Better yet, set it aside and enjoy the world in front of you as much as possible. (Here are other sneaky reasons you’re making your neck hurt.)
Sit up straight
“The most important factor in human posture is movement,” Mary Bond, a movement coach and author of The New Rules of Posture and Your Body Mandala: Posture as a Path to Presence. “Stillness, especially seated stillness, is the enemy of good posture. Human bodies evolved to move—our ancient forebears’ survival depended on being able to move in order to find food. Almost any form of exercise will improve posture. Walking with the arms free to swing—not holding a phone— and the eyes free to enjoy the surroundings is a simple but elegant solution to posture problems.”
And when you do plop down in a chair to work, eat, or watch a movie, do a quick body scan: How are you sitting? Are you slouching? You should sit up straight not only to improve posture, but also to keep your spine happy and healthy. If you’re sitting and need to look down, instead of slouching, lean forward at the waist, 15 to 20 degrees and bring your chest to your work rather than looking down from your neck or slouching in your mid-back, Dr. Terry says. Be careful to keep your lower spine neutral; overarching creates its own problems. (Find out if posture correctors work and if you should buy one.)
Wondering how to get better posture? There are a number of exercises that will improve balance and are easy to incorporate into your regular routine to better your posture. Yoga and Pilates, in particular, target your core and lower back muscles, essential for enhancing your everyday stance. Try doing crunches, core crossovers, planks, and the cobra pose (feels amazing, right?!). The idea is controlled and stabilizing movements as well as torso mobility to stretch and extend the spine.
“An easy posture re-organizing move is simply to perform the kind of yawning stretch that happens naturally first thing in the morning,” says Bond. “Standing with your legs strong and straight, reach your hands high in the air, lengthening your spine and getting your limbs as far apart from each other as possible. This will probably make you yawn, releasing your jaw. This action, called pandiculation, is a natural way for animals to reset their neuromuscular systems as they move from repose into action. These days we spend so much time sitting still that we really need this neuromuscular reset to prevent our bodies from becoming chair-shaped.” (These neck exercises can reduce neck pain by 50 percent.)
When done correctly, a yoga headstand can strengthen your core and relieve pressure on your back and spine so your muscles can support good posture. It also has the added benefit of improving shoulder and neck strength, getting your digestive system moving, and helping relieve stress. Proper alignment is essential for this advanced move; if you can’t get up on your own, do a headstand against a wall for support. (Check out the easy 10-minute yoga routine for better digestion.)
Sleep on your side
How you sleep plays a huge role in overall posture, and may explain daily neck or upper back pain. “If you sleep on your back with a pillow under your head, you are creating the same effect of forward head posture,” Dr. Terry says. You’ll wake up with a happier spine if you sleep on your side with a pillow in between your legs, he says. (These are the best sleep positions for 11 common health problems.)
Wear the right shoes
If you’re a big fan of high-heeled pumps or wedges, bad news: “When women wear shoes with a lifted heel on them, it cocks their hips forward and potentially pinches the discs and nerves in their lower back,” Dr. Terry says. “Women who wear heels all the time tend to have a lot of lower back pain for this reason.” Save your high heels for special occasions, and consider a back massage post-wear to get rid of muscle tension. For everyday use, consider shoes that offer proper arch support, which will improve posture. (Here are more horrible things high heels can do to your body.)
Consider seeing a chiropractor
Chiropractic biophysics (CBP) is a more invasive way to correct your posture, but may help, depending on the condition of your spine. Not to be confused with regular chiropractic alignment, “the philosophy behind CBP is to create a real improvement in people’s health and posture,” Dr. Terry say. “The overall method behind CBP is to re-educate the muscle’s tendons and ligaments in and around the spine in order to correct postural distortions and misalignment.” CBP is similar to braces—much like a teen would get braces to correct the position of his or her teeth, CBP uses equipment called traction to correct the position of the spine. Although this method works only over a period of months, the results are permanent and structural. (Got back pain? These five exercises may make it better.)
- Douglas Terry, DC, of Terry Chiropractic Boulder in Boulder, Colorado
- Applied Ergonomics, "Texting on mobile phones and musculoskeletal disorders in young adults: A five-year cohort study"
- Mary Bond, a movement coach and author of The New Rules of Posture and Your Body Mandala: Posture as a Path to Presence