Common posture mistakes and fixes

Exercises and tips to help alleviate muscle tension caused by poor sitting and standing habits such as sticking your bottom out and slouching.

While you may feel that your poor posture is to blame for your aches and pains, research suggests that stress is the main factor in most cases of back pain.

However, many people may find that their pain flares up when they adopt certain postures for long periods of time, such as hunching over a desk or driving long distance.

Physiotherapist and back pain expert Nick Sinfield describes eight common posture mistakes and how to correct them with strength and stretching exercises.

Improving your posture is unlikely to address the root cause of your pain but it may help alleviate muscle tension.

"Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become  so used to sitting and standing in a particular way," says Sinfield.

"You need to retrain your body to sit and stand correctly, this can improve your body awareness and confidence that your back is a strong resilient structure.

"Initially, this may require a bit of conscious effort and some strengthening and flexibility exercises to correct muscle imbalances.

"But with a bit of practice, good posture will become second nature and be one step to helping your back in the long term ."

Slouching in a chair

Sitting slumped without any lower back support may feel more comfortable than sitting upright because it requires less effort from our muscles and your body will be used to adopting this position.

Slouching doesn't always cause discomfort but over time this position can place strain on already sensitised muscles and soft tissues. This strain may increase tension in the muscles which may in turn cause pain.   

Get into the habit of sitting correctly. It may not feel comfortable initially because your muscles have not been conditioned to support you in the correct position. Exercises to strengthen your core and buttock muscles and back extensions will help correct a slouching posture.

Exercises to correct a slumping posture:

 

 

Sticking your bottom out

sticking out bottom (left) and correct standing posture

If your bottom tends to stick out or you have a pronounced curve in your lower back, you may have "hyperlordosis", which is an exaggerated inward curve in the lower back creating a "Donald Duck" posture. Wearing high heels, excessive weight around the stomach and pregnancy can all cause this posture.

Core and buttock strengthening exercises and hip flexor and thigh stretches as well as making a conscious effort to correct your standing posture are recommended to help correct a sticking out bottom.

Exercises to correct a "Donald Duck" posture:

Good standing posture:

To help you maintain a correct standing posture, imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards. The idea is to keep your body in perfect alignment, maintaining the spine's natural curvature, neck straight and shoulders parallel with the hips.

  • Keep your shoulders back and relaxed
  • Pull in your abdomen
  • Keep your feet about hip distance apart
  • Balance your weight evenly on both feet
  • Try not to tilt your head forward, backward or sideways
  • Keep your legs straight but knees relaxed

 

Standing with a flat back

 

A flat back means your pelvis is tucked in and your lower back is straight instead of naturally curved, causing you to stoop forward. People with a flat back often find it difficult standing for long periods.

This posture is often caused by muscle imbalances, which encourage you to adopt such a position. Spending long periods sitting down can also contribute to a flat back. A flat back also tends to make you lean your neck and head forwards, which can cause neck and upper back strain.

Exercises to strengthen your core, buttocks, neck and rear shoulder muscles and back extensions are recommended to help correct a flat back.

Exercises to correct a flat back:

 

Leaning on one leg

 

Leaning more on one leg while standing, sometimes referred to as "hanging on one hip", can feel comfortable, especially if you’ve been standing for a while. Instead of using your buttocks and core muscles to keep you upright, you place excessive pressure on one side of your lower back and hip.

Over time, you may develop muscle imbalances around the pelvis area, which can cause muscular strain in the lower back and buttocks. Other causes of uneven hips include carrying heavy backpacks on one shoulder, and mums carrying toddlers on one hip.

To improve this posture, try to get into the habit of standing with your weight evenly distributed on both legs. Exercises to strengthen your buttocks and core muscles will help correct uneven hips.

Exercises to correct uneven hips:

 

Hunched back and 'text neck'

Text neck (left) and hunched back

 

If you spend several hours a day working on a computer, you may unconsciously find yourself adopting poor postural habits, such as hunching over your keyboard. This position is usually a sign that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back. This position can lead to a tight chest and a weak upper back. Over time, this type of posture can contribute to you developing a rounded upper back, which can cause shoulder and upper back stiffness.

When hunching over a computer, your head may tend to lean forward, which can lead to poor posture. Mobile device usage can also encourage you to hang your head and can cause similar problems dubbed "text neck".

Upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises, chest stretches and neck posture drills are recommended to help correct a hunched back.

Exercises to correct a hunched back:

  • Gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • Seated rows
  • Chest stretches

 

Poking your chin

 

Many people poke their chin forward to look up at a computer screen or TV when sitting without realising it. The poking chin posture can be caused by sitting too low, a screen set too high, a hunched back or a combination of all three. An unsupported lower back or a hunched upper back both encourage the neck to lean and tip the head downward. To compensate for this downward pressure, we lift the chin to look forward without straightening the back.

Correcting a poking chin involves improving your sitting habits and exercises to correct your posture.

How to correct a poking chin:

  • Gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • Bring your shoulder blades back towards your spine
  • Pull in your lower tummy muscles to maintain a natural curve in your lower back
  • Adjust your seating

 

Rounded shoulders

 

One way to tell if you've got rounded shoulders is to stand in front of a mirror and let your arms hang naturally by your sides. If your knuckles face forward, it may indicate that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back, giving the appearance of rounded shoulders.

Rounded shoulders are typically caused by poor posture habits, muscle imbalances and an uneven exercise regimen, such as too much focus on chest strength and neglecting the upper back. Over time, these muscle imbalances can result in poor positioning of your shoulders.

Exercises to strengthen your core, upper back and chest muscles will help correct rounded shoulders.

Exercises to correct rounded shoulders:

  • Plank
  • Bridging
  • Seated rows in a gym (or pull-ups)
  • Chest stretches

 

Cradling your phone

 

Holding your phone handset between your ear and shoulder places can place strain on  the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders. The neck and shoulders are not designed to hold this position for any length of time. Over time this  posture can place strain on the muscles and other soft tissues and lead to muscle imbalances between the left and right side of your neck. Try to get into the habit of holding the phone with your hand or use a hands-free device.

Exercises for neck stiffness and pain:

  • Chest stretches
  • Neck stretches: gently lower your left ear towards your left shoulder. Hold for 10-15 deep breaths. Repeat on opposite side.
  • Neck rotations: slowly turn your chin towards one shoulder. Hold for 10-15 deep breaths. Repeat on opposite side.

Page last reviewed: 02/07/2014

Next review due: 02/07/2016

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