Back & SpinePoor Posture and Pain: What You Need to Know

Poor Posture and Pain: What You Need to Know

Poor posture and pain often go hand-in-hand. One of the best things you can do to ease and possibly prevent chronic pain is to maintain good posture. If you notice aches and pains in your neck and shoulders or shoulder blades and back, it could be attributed to the way you hold your body while sitting, standing, sleeping or even using your devices. 

Poor posture and pain 101 

There are many factors that can contribute to chronic pain and poor posture. One of the biggest culprits is living a sedentary life. Sitting at a desk for hours and hours in an uncomfortable office chair staring at a computer screen can be part of that lifestyle. Sound familiar?

Problems from poor posture can trigger pain symptoms as a result of compressed discs in the spine. This can lead to all sorts of pain. It can also put you at an increased risk for osteoporosis and other chronic spine conditions.

illustration of spine health

Going “back” to basics 

The concept of improving posture to ease pain has been researched for years. There are a variety of methods you can explore to better understand the mechanics of proper posture and pain relief, including the Gokhale Method. This is a systematic process of restoring pain-free posture and movement developed by Esther Gokhale, a licensed acupuncturist and trained biochemist who was seeking relief from her debilitating back and sciatic pain.

Like many of us, Gokhale suffered from chronic, severe back pain and sciatic pain. No matter what avenues she explored to reduce her pain nothing was working. As a practicing acupuncturist, she worked with many people in similar pain. This made her wonder why human beings were so “poorly designed and kept falling apart.”

She began a journey to find answers to her questions about poor posture and pain and discovered humans are actually “extremely well-designed creatures.” Unfortunately, our culture has caused us to lose sight of how we maintain good posture. The result: chronic pain. Plus, in a sedentary environment we stop focusing on building our core muscles that help protect our spine.

A new technique emerges 

In search of a relief from her own back pain, Gokhale studied a variety of methods, including the Alexander Technique and the work of the Aplomb Institute. Her research and work with clients in her acupuncture practice led to the development of her own technique. Its central focus is on proper posture.

At the heart of her method is the primal posture. The concept is:

  • we were all born with healthy posture
  • we are able to regain that by practicing healthy posture and strengthening our core

“It’s the posture that you find in our hunter-gatherer ancestors or even our great-great-grandparents, that we all shared when we were two and that people in nonindustrial cultures still retain,” Gokhale explains in an interview with Pain Resource. “The architecture of the body that I claim is natural is pain-free, highly functional, and beautiful.”

Spare your joints by stacking your spine

One of the interesting things Gokhale points out in her method of proper posture is that when we were infants and young children, we moved correctly. Our spine was in alignment. As we age, we seem to lose sight of that movement.

The Gokhale Method focuses on creating appropriate weight-bearing on your bones. This helps to avoid osteoarthritis by not creating “edgewise compression in the vertebrae, which [impedes] muscle relaxation needed to promote healthy circulation.” She suggests movements that use your muscles, but spare your joints. 

Your vertebrae are designed to be stacked. If you have a poorly aligned stack of vertebrae, instead of having face-to-face, healthy compression, that could be the beginning of osteoarthritis. 

Take inventory of your posture

Now that you know how poor posture and pain work, it’s time to evaluate your posture to see where it needs help:

  • Think about how you engage with technology throughout the day.
  • How do you use your phone or laptop?
  • Is your chin down and head pushed forward the majority of the time because you position your devices too low?
  • What about your posture while sitting? 
  • Do you strain to stand up straight?

kids on their phones with text neck

Simple posture mistakes can trigger repetitive use injuries. They put unnecessary stress on your neck and spine. In fact, the simple act of looking down at a device for an extended period of time immediately compromises our joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves.

Now compound that with poor posture in day-to-day life, working hunched over a keyboard or slouching for hours in uncomfortable chairs. It’s no wonder so many of us live with pain. 

Stop bad posture habits early

As children, we moved effortlessly. In today’s high tech world, youngsters are developing painful conditions because they interact with devices so much.

Young children are susceptible because they haven’t fully developed core muscles that act as an internal girdle to better protect their spine. One problem physical therapists, pediatricians and physicians are seeing in children is text neck or tech neck.

Text neck (or tech neck) is a condition that’s the direct result of poor posture. It’s when your heads is pushed forward for long amounts of time – like holding a phone in your lap. It can cause long-term neck pain, shoulder pain and arm pain. Plus, over time it puts pressure on your spine because it will no longer be in proper alignment. 

Standing the right way

When it comes to standing correctly with proper posture, stand comfortably with your feet at shoulder width apart. Shift your weight from one foot to the other without locking your knees.

This standing position supports more than spine health. It also enhances proper circulation by taking unnecessary pressure off of your blood vessels. Your head is lifted up, sitting squarely above your spine, not pushed forward. If you push your head forward, this is how text neck happens as explained above.

Secrets of sitting posture

When you sit down, avoid bad posture by not slouching. Maintaining good posture, especially in an office chair, can be done by sitting down the right way. If you’re seated at a desk with a laptop or computer screen:

  • hold your knees even with your hips or slightly higher
  • keep both of your feet on the floor and your arms and
  • rest your arms and wrists comfortably on the desk or keyboard

Healthy sitting posture can also mean standing up more. That’s why standing desks have become so popular. Standing up every 20-40 minutes helps you focus on proper spinal alignment and can ease poor posture and pain problems.

3 people working in an office

Ergonomic science at your fingertips

When you begin working on your computer, the flow of balance and energy travels from your fingertips up your arms. To maintain good posture throughout your body includes your wrists and forearms.

Even when using a keyboard, poor posture can lead to chronic pain conditions. The best way to use a keyboard is to:

  • stay relaxed to reduce wrist pronation
  • take inventory of your body mechanics 
  • watch for bad posture habits sneaking into your time on the computer

Be mindful of your spinal health

Being mindful of adjustments you can make to improve your posture is an ongoing habit. Train your brain to be aware of your body. Are you practicing poor posture and pain is the result? Or are you easing aches and pains by maintaining good posture? Take stock to help you live a pain free life!

What steps do you take each day to prevent poor posture and pain?

Tell us what works best for you in the comments!

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This post was updated in March 2019 with new information and resources. 

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