As it turns out, all those times your Mom told you “stand up straight” or “don’t slouch,” she wasn’t being a pain in the neck or giving you a headache, it was actually your bad posture. Poor posture is the cause for many of our headaches and neck pain because slouching builds pressure in the neck muscles and head. Forward head posture is one common problem today. Consider that for each inch your neck bends forward over the neutral position you are creating an extra 10 lbs. of weight on your neck.
Over time, bad posture can damage our health and well-being. But don’t just take our (or your Mom’s) word for it. Here are seven of the most convincing reasons to practice good posture.
1. Poor Posture Can Lead to Back or Neck Injuries
When incorrect posture occurs repetitively, it can affect the muscles, nerves, connective tissues, joints, or spinal disks. As your posture becomes less neutral, the muscles responsible for movement on the side you favor become stronger and the muscles on the side you use less, become elongated and weakened. This creates muscle imbalance. Muscle or strength imbalance is a leading cause of injury.
- Injuries can occur from repetitive movements that are not particularly challenging, such as ergonomic injuries at work or “text neck.” a common overuse syndrome.
- Injuries can also occur when you become active and your body tries to compensate for the imbalance, often creating joint instability or misalignment.
2. Bad Posture Can Worsen TMJ Disorder
The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are located in front of each ear. When this joint becomes inflamed, it can cause headaches, loud popping, face, jaw, and neck pain. One surprising cause of TMJ flair up is poor posture. Forward head posture seems to be the prime instigator because the posture causes an excessive amount of tension on the jaw muscles.
3. Incorrect Posture Causes Back Pain
Back pain that is caused by poor posture can be:
- Pain that becomes worse as the day progresses or is worse during particular times of the day
- Pain that moves from your neck down into your upper and even your lower back
- Pain that is relieved after changing positions while you’re sitting or standing
4. Posture Abnormalities Can Cause Tension Headaches
Eight out of ten of us know the symptoms, dull, tightness, and pressure in the area of your forehead or stiffness or squeezing at the neck and back of the head. Sometimes called “stress headaches,” they are all too common in adults but fortunately preventable. Correcting posture could be one measure that is useful in cutting down the frequency or severity of these episodes.
5. Posture and Neck Pain
- Crick in the neck
While not the official medical term -that would be muscle spasm, we all know the tale-tell signs; stiffness, pain, knotted muscle in the neck – usually on one side. It is an unrelenting difficult to treat pain that can last for days, and it is caused predominately by awkward posture. Physical therapy to limber up the muscles that are spasming can be beneficial and offer some relief but avoiding the incorrect posture that caused it is the only method to ensure you do not suffer again.
- Pinched nerves in the neck
Another neck pain symptom caused by prolonged awkward posture is a pinched nerve. Described by many as burning, searing, tingling, or numb, a pinched nerve occurs when a pinching motion from the skull and cervical vertebrae entrap tissues that are rich in nerve endings. It can also be the result of a herniated cervical disk compressing local nerves.
6. Bad Posture Can Worsen Arthritis
With poor posture and osteoarthritis, it is often a “chicken or the egg” type question regarding bad posture. More often, the slumped posture is an end result of the disease process and its effect on the spine over time. While it is also true that early in the disease poor posture can contribute to this type of arthritis.
“What is almost certainly true is that poor posture may well hasten the progression of the disease.” John Carey, M.D., Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Diseases at The Cleveland Clinic.
7. Slumping Posture Can Trigger Migraines
Anyone who has suffered from one of these tyrant headaches tries to find and disable any trigger, giving up favorite foods, perfume, wine, and even chocolate. Researchers have found that one trigger may often be overlooked. When myofascial trigger points are stressed by prolonged forward head posture consistent with computing or texting they can trigger unilateral migraines that may last for several days
Tips for Improving Posture and Reducing Pain
Do you hunch your shoulders for hours while using devices, use a chair with inadequate support, or use a computer monitor that is positioned too low? If so and you suffer from frequent headaches and neck pain try these simple changes to correct improper posture.
- Make certain that your computer monitor is ergonomically correct. It should be set up so that the top 1/3 of the screen is at eye level.
- Try chin nodding exercises.
– Laying on your back, bend your knees so that you are not putting pressure on your lower back.
– Look up with your nose perpendicular to the ceiling.
– With slow and deliberate muscle contraction, nod your head forward without lifting your neck.
– Slowly return to the vertical position.
– Repeat 10 times. You can also do these standing up, against the wall.
- Be mindful of neutral alignment or correct posture. Sit up straight, with your chin at a 45-degree angle from your chest.
- Use a chair that is ergonomic, provides adequate lumbar and thoracic support and make certain that it is adjusted to your height.
- Avoid any prolonged posture. Vary your position throughout the day.
- Do not clench your jaw or grind your teeth. The neutral position for proper jaw alignment is with teeth parted slightly, jaw slightly forward.
- Be careful to bend at your neck when you look upward, rather than craning it forward.
- Seek professional advice for headaches and neck pain that are unresolved, lasting more than 48 hours.
Fortunately, most of the neck pain and headaches caused by poor posture can be eliminated by using simple measures. For prolonged discomfort, physical therapy can be beneficial in treating symptoms of muscle and strength imbalances along with education and instruction designed to correct posture.