Poor Posture Causes Many People's Headaches, Neck Pain, and Back Pain

As much as it pains me to say it, mom was right about posture. Slouching contributes to many people's headaches, neck pain, and back pain. The body is designed to sit and stand up straight. If you are standing with good posture there is much less strain on muscles, tendons, and joints compared to slouching. The body was not designed to sit with a rounded back and shoulders, or with the head leaning forward. This position may feel comfortable but several muscles are working overtime.

Video: Neck and Back Pain From Slouching

Have you ever held a 7 pound bowling ball? Did you hold it close to your chest or out in front of you? How heavy does that bowling ball feel when your arms are extended straight? Can you hold that position for a minute? Most people's arms will begin shaking and burning within 30 seconds. The muscles are working very hard to hold the ball up in the air. However, you could hold the ball for 30 minutes if it was positioned closer to your chest. The muscles are not working near as hard the closer the ball is to your center of gravity.

Physics of Slouching

Not many people are interested in the physics. I'm sure we could calculate and compare the amount of energy required to hold the ball 5 minutes at arms length verses your chest. The difference in Newtons (measuring unit of forces) would be significant, and at the same time conceptually meaningless. (I'm sure one of my engineering patients will send me the correct answer with a simplified explanation. There is a lunch reward for the first one to do so.)

Video: Tension & Migraine Headaches are on a Continuum

I cannot conceptualize the effort required for 3,000 Newtons. But I do know that I hold things closer to my body whenever possible. Why should I spend the energy to do it the hard way, and potentially hurt myself in the process?

Why does Posture Matter?

Slouching makes certain muscles work extra hard. That 7 pound bowling ball on top of your neck, also known as your head, is held up by muscles and joints. The spine is a series of bones that support your body weight. The spine has several curves that absorb the weight like a spring. Slouching straightens the spring and increases the forces at certain points of the spring, thereby increasing the effort to keep you upright.

If you sit at a computer with perfect posture the curves of your spine would absorb most of the forces, and the muscles would evenly distribute the remaining work load. Ideally your ear is directly above your shoulder which is above your waist. Moving your head and shoulders forward two inches changes the curve in your neck and back to a less desirable position. Certain muscles are now working harder to support the structural change.

The increased effort does not seem like much; however, how long are you going to be sitting at the computer today? Multiply the increased effort by the amount of hours and days. Now we can see the small change makes a huge difference to the muscles weekly workload.

Taking this a step further, do you sit with great posture in the car, couch, or kitchen table? How much time in a day is spent slouching? Do you slouch more than two inches? Most people slouch through the entire day when sitting, and every inch dramatically increases the workload on the muscles.

Over the course of months and years, many people develop headaches, neck pain, or back pain as a result of poor posture. The muscles and joints have been overworked for years and have been gone through subtle signs of injury. After a while people begin to notice increased tightness and loss of flexibility in their neck, shoulder, and back muscles. They might begin to complain of muscle aches and soreness. People start asking for neck and back rubs because of muscle aches. "Knots" in the muscles begin to form and never go away.

Bad Posture has been causing you PAIN!

Looking backward, people realize an increased amount of stiffness and mild soreness in their neck and back. They begin to have more episodes of dull neck and back pain. The number of instances of sharp pain or twinges increases through the years. They begin having several days of moderate dull pain and very limited motion. The moderate back pain does go away after a few days but another episode occurs within a few months. They start waking up more often with "stiff necks."

People start to feel fatigued at the end of the day more often and can't wait for the weekend to recover. Some people start to have mild headaches at the end of the day, that then go away with a little rest or Advil. The headaches intensity, frequency, and duration is worse with increased stress or work hours. The subtle signs have been there for years, now is the time to correct the underlying problem.

Posture is a habit. It can be improved but it will take time and effort. As you begin sitting with good posture it will feel very uncomfortable, and you may feel soreness in new places. At first you might hold the position for 5 minutes before slouching again. Then it will increase to 10 minutes, and then to 20 before slouching. With sustained effort and awareness you will begin to have better posture throughout the whole day. Since good posture requires less muscle effort, within a few weeks you will feel a decrease in muscle soreness and fatigue.

Ways to Improve Your Posture

I always suggest putting a sticky note on your computer monitor or work phone that says "Sit UP!" You will be amazed at how often you find yourself slouching. Some people will set a phone alarm or Outlook reminder for 20 minute intervals. Changing the habit requires effort and constant reminding at the begining.

The quickest way to improve your posture is to play a game with your coworkers. Put a change jar on everyone's desk. If someone catches you slouching you owe them a quarter. It becomes a rewarding challenge to catch people slouching. It will probably cost $10 by lunchtime, but you will quickly find yourself sitting up straight with every squeak of a chair. In a cubical work setting, the top of heads begin to pop up straight like Prairie Dog Fields whenever a coworker starts talking.

Identify the times and places that you are slouching the worst, such as home computer, laptops, Ipads, driving, couches, standing, or walking. Focus on increasing the amount of time spent with better posture in each of these situations. Changing a habit will take time and effort but can be done with the right dedication.

Your muscles and back will thank you.

Massage to relieve some of the slouching muscle neck and back pain. Massage Therapy

For more information on treating the "knots" in your shoulder visit Graston Technique

Headache Treatment information can be found at Slouching Headache Causes and Treatment

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