Ease back pain by changing your posture!

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

18 February 2019

Problem: hunching over

Whether you are sitting or standing, hunching over is a common problem. Since this pushes the head forwards, it can contribute to pain in the upper back and neck. This discomfort can also make it hard to stand for long periods at a time and thus may even fuel an inactive lifestyle.

If you are prone to hunching over it may be because you are spending long periods sitting down. If there is no proper support in place (such as cushions to prop you up and a foot stool to rest your feet on) this encourages the back to curve over.

Another issue, however, is technology. Nowadays we spend many hours of the day curled over computers, tablets, phones and laptops and, over time, this can lead to a rounded back and stiffness. 

How can I fix my back pain and posture?

Change your posture – when standing keep your back straight, tuck in your bottom, keep your knees straight and look forwards when walking. You’ll also need to change how you sit but I’ve included more advice on that a little further on in the article.

Altering your posture may feel a little uncomfortable at first but it’s only because your body isn’t used to being in that position, plus the muscles aren’t trained to support you in that way. With persistence - you’ll need to remember to straighten up any time you feel your body hunching over – your back should feel an improvement.  

Cut down on technology use – as I say, constantly hunching over phones, laptops, keyboards and tablets forces the back and neck into an unnatural and uncomfortable position. Cutting down your use of such technology could, however, ease some of the tension in this area. 

Try some simple exercises - incorporating some easy exercises into your daily routine will stretch the muscles in your back, neck and shoulders. It may also encourage you to adopt a different posture. I’d recommend trying the donkey kick, as well the standing leg raise.

Problem: how you sit

Slouching, leaning over, failing to hold your gaze up or not having your feet placed firmly on the ground when sitting can all place strain on the muscles in the back. These problems occur when driving, eating dinner, watching television and do not just appear when you are sat at your desk at work. 

It is worth noting, however, that if you spend long hours at a computer, having your screen too low can also cause your chin to poke out. This is not a natural posture to hold and over time can cause pain to develop in the back. 

How can I fix my back pain and posture?

Change your posture – position your buttocks so that they touch the back of your chair and your back lined up with the structure of the chair. Next lengthen your back, tuck in your chin and keep your shoulders relaxed. It is also important to keep your feet firmly on the ground, as shown in the image below. 

Change your office set up – once you’ve got the right posture, you may also need to make some alterations to your desk at work. Adjust your computer screen so that it is level with your eyes. This will prevent your body from hunching over. 

You may also require a foot rest to give your legs some support. Take a look at the image below for correct and incorrect postures when sitting. 

Use a lumbar support – this is a type of cushion designed to promote better posture and ease back pain. There are a variety of lumbar supports available to aid different parts of the spine so it is worth doing a bit of research to find the one that’s best for you.

Alter your driving seat – pull your seat close to the steering wheel and position it so that it’s quite straight. You could use a lumbar support or a rolled up towel if your lower back needs extra support.

Try some simple exercises – gentle exercises that stretch out the back such as plank, cat-cow and standing roll down can help to relieve pain and tension. You can find out how to do these over on our Get Active Hub.

Problem: weight bearing

Are you guilty of leaning on one leg over the other, or of jutting your hip out whilst standing still? Well, this is another example of poor posture that can contribute to back pain. These place excessive pressure on one side of the back and hip but can also cause muscular imbalances in the hip too. 

This kind of poor posture can develop as a result of habit but other things that can change how you bear your weight include carrying heavy bags on one shoulder and carrying toddlers on your hip. 

How can I fix my back pain and posture?

Change your posture - when you are standing still keep the head in line with the shoulders, keep the shoulders relaxed and keep your chin and bottom tucked in. Stand with your weight evenly distributed between your feet too.

Don’t wear high heels every day - heels can push your spine forwards and causes the back to arch so it may be best to save them for a special occasion! If you like a bit of height try wearing wedges which provide a little extra support. 

Try some simple exercises – plank and tricep extensions may encourage a straighter spine. For this you need to have your feet placed firmly on the ground so regular practice may help you to adopt the position day-to-day! 

Problem: tensing shoulders

You can test whether you are tensing your shoulders with the following exercise: stand in front of the mirror and let your hands fall naturally by your side. If your knuckles face forward it may indicate tense or rounded shoulders. 

Tense shoulders place strain on the muscles in this area, as well as those in the neck and upper back. It can also lead to imbalances between the left and right side of the neck thus leading to pain and discomfort.

There are a number of explanations for tense shoulders. It could be a result of stress, as well as frequent use of technology. Regularly speaking with your phone tucked between your ear and shoulder, for example, can encourage the shoulders to tense.  

How can I fix my back pain and posture?

Use hands free – or hold the phone with your hands. This will avoid putting your neck and shoulders under unnecessary strain. 

Try some simple exercises – practicing some neck rotations throughout the day helps to loosen up the neck area. To do this, very slowly move your head to the right, and then back to the left. You could also try some gentle shoulder shrugs - just circle the shoulders forwards and then back a few times then repeat at frequent intervals.

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Problem: slouching

You may think that lying stretched out on the sofa is the comfiest position of them all but unfortunately sitting or lying in the same position for pro-longed periods, especially if you are slumped over, can eventually cause pain as it puts strain on the muscles and joints.

Slouching can cause further problems as it places stress on the spine and can even affect the organs inside the body. If they are all slumped together, for example, it makes it harder for them to work properly and thus digestion may be affected. 

How can I fix my back pain and posture?

Change your posture – keep your back lined up with the chair and if necessary use a cushion or two to give you some extra support. The visual below shows how exactly this should be done. 

Try some simple exercises – if you are spending long hours slumped in front of a television or computer screen at work then I’d recommend you break up that time with some simple stretches. By reading our blog easy stretches to do at your desk you can learn a variety of gentle examples.

Problem: how you sleep

Now that we’ve had a look at problematic postures that develop throughout the day, we must also consider our posture at night too. Sleeping in a poor position can exacerbate back pain so it is really important to get this sorted!

How can I fix my back pain and posture?

Sleep on your side – for those of you with back and neck pain, it is recommended you sleep on your side with a soft pillow as this keeps the neck and back straight.

Sleep on your back – if you aren’t comfortable on your side, then you could try lying on your back. This keeps the neck, back, hips and stomach in a neutral position. A pillow under the knees will improve the alignment of the spine further, whilst a soft pillow under the head will make sure the head is neither too high nor too low. 

Don’t sleep on your front – this is an unnatural position that puts pressure on the lower back. This means it is likely to worsen neck and back pain.

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