Is Poor Posture Giving you Back Ache?

Poor posture could be the reason why your back hurts, so sit up straight and read on to find out why and how to put it right.

From neck and shoulder pain caused by hunching over a smartphone, to lower back pain from sitting at our desks all day, our daily lives are causing us pain. Who hasn’t had to call in sick at work because of back pain, or put off a night out with friends because they were in too much pain to have a good time?

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to work on your posture so you don’t have to miss an important meeting or an evening of fun because of your sore back.

Did you know?

1 in 3 people say that body pain, for example, back pain has forced them to call in sick at work.¹

What do we mean by posture?

Posture refers to the way in which your body is positioned when you are sitting, moving or standing. As well as being vital for our movement and comfort, having a good posture means that muscles and ligaments are not working harder than they should.²

 

What does this have to do with back pain?

Ideally, a good posture should be maintained by deep muscle layers. These muscles are specialised to support your body for long periods when it’s in a natural position – a good posture. If your posture is bad, these deep muscles can’t work efficiently, and your body has to rely on the muscles that are used for movement. Unfortunately, these muscles get tired more easily, so even if you’re sitting at your desk, if your posture is bad, you’ll feel fatigued. Over time, the unused deep muscles become weak, which can contribute to back pain and worsening posture.²

Did you know?

42% of people say pain stops them from going out with friends.¹

How do I know if I have bad posture?

Some signs of bad posture you may be able to see, including rounded shoulders, a pot belly or a tendency to jut your head forward. Others you will feel: back pain, body aches and pains, muscle fatigue or headache.²

Did you know?

1 in 3 people say that body pain, for example, back pain has forced them to call in sick at work.¹

Don’t worry, it’s easy to improve your posture!

A good posture should feel effortless – there’s no need to throw your shoulders back and stick your chest out. If your muscles are tight or weak, it may take some time to adjust your posture habits at first, but these small changes can make a big difference to back pain.

Try this quick posture check

When you’re standing up, you should be able to imagine a straight line running from your ear through your shoulder, hip and knee to the middle of your ankle.

There are a number of simple ways in which you can help to improve your posture. While it may take some time and feel awkward at first to correct a posture that you are accustomed to, your back will thank you.

Stop slouching

If you have a tendency to slouch when sitting, with your pelvis further forward than your shoulders, your muscles have to work harder, resulting in tension and pain.³ Avoid soft chairs for long periods – while they seem comfortable, they make it difficult to maintain a good posture.²
To correct this posture, try exercises that will strengthen your core, buttocks, shoulder and neck muscles, such as back extensions.³
 

How to do back extensions
 

  • Lie on your stomach, and bring your arms beneath you, bending your elbows so your hands are resting on the floor under your face
  • Keep your shoulders back and neck in line with your spine
  • Arch your back up by pushing down on your hands until you feel a gentle stretch on your stomach muscles
  • Hold for five to 10 seconds, breathing all the time
  • Return to start position
  • Repeat eight to 10 times⁴
  • Stop immediately if you feel any pain or discomfort

Stand square

If you’ve ever worked in a shop, as a hairdresser or in a restaurant, you’ll know that standing all day can be tiring. It’s common to stand with one leg out and your weight over the other, especially if you have been on your feet for a while. Although it seems comfortable, it places uneven strain on your hips and lower back, and can lead to muscle imbalances and pain in your lower back.³
You can work on correcting uneven hips with exercises to strengthen your buttocks, lower back and core muscles, such as the plank.³

How to plank
 

  • Lie on your front, then raise your body on your toes and bent forearms
  • Keep your legs straight and hips raised to create a straight line from head to toe
  • Your shoulders should be directly above your elbows
  • Make sure you keep your tummy muscles tight throughout the exercise
  • Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat 8 to 10 times to strengthen your core muscles⁵
  • Stop immediately if you feel any pain or discomfort

Sit up straight

Poor posture is common among office workers, many of whom can sit for hours at a desk without moving. When you’re concentrating on a task, it’s easy to ignore discomfort.² Spending long periods looking down at a smartphone can similar, creating the modern syndrome of ‘text neck’.³ Over time, the chest muscles tighten and the back muscles become weak, which can cause rounded shoulders and back stiffness.² It’s important to take regular breaks to stretch, move around and ensure you are sitting correctly.⁶

Here’s a handy tip

When you’re at work, set an alarm to remind you take a two minute break from your desk every 30 minutes.⁶

Sit in a stable chair to properly support your lower back. Your knees should be at right angles or a little lower than your hips, with your feet either supported by a footrest or flat on the floor. Having your feet firmly positioned provides support for your back.⁶

Straight to sleep

44% of Australians say that pain stops them from sleeping.¹ While you can’t control your posture when you are asleep, you can ensure that your body is properly supported so you can get the rest you need.

You should choose a mattress that is comfortable for you: your mattress should not be too soft or saggy, but firm enough to keep your back straight between your shoulders and hips. Use a pillow to support your head and shoulders, making sure your neck is not at an awkward angle.⁷

If you do have back pain, try some extra support. If you sleep on your back, put a cushion under your knees to support your spine. If you sleep on your side, bend your knees a little towards your chest and put a flat cushion between them.⁸

So now you know why posture matters. While you are going about your daily business, occasionally pause for a second to give yours a check. Your back will thank you for it in the long run.

¹ GSK Global Pain Index 2016.
² Better Health Channel. Posture. Available from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ conditionsandtreatments/posture (accessed Nov 2016).
³ NHS Choices. Live well: Common posture mistakes and fixes. Available from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Backpain/Pages /back-pain-and-common-posture-mistakes.aspx (accessed Nov 2016).
⁴ NHS Choices. Live well: Lower back pain exercises. Available from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Backpain /Pages/low-back-pain-exercises.aspx (accessed Nov 2016).
⁵ NHS Choices. Live well: 10-minute abs workout. Available from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/abs-workout.aspx (accessed Nov 2016).
⁶ NHS Choices. Live well: Back pain at work. Available from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/backpainatwork.aspx (accessed Nov 2016).
⁷ Health Direct. Back pain prevention. Available from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/ back-pain-prevention (accessed Nov 2016).
⁸ Health Direct. Back pain self-care. Available from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/ back-pain-self-care (accessed Nov 2016).

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