Posture refers to how you carry your body when you sit, stand, and walk. Good posture means that your spine (from your cervical spine to your lumbar spine) is in proper alignment. Good posture can make you appear confident, improve your focus, and even boost your productivity.
However, poor posture is more than just a slouched appearance. Poor posture 一 especially a head-forward posture 一 can take a toll on your neck and back muscles.
In this article, our team of providers explains how posture affects the muscles in your neck and back and how you can eliminate pain caused by poor posture.
The negative effects of poor posture on your neck and back
When your head isn’t aligned properly over your neck, it can stress your cervical spine. Even just bending your neck forward one or two inches can double (or even triple) the pressure on your neck. When all of the added pressure on your neck, your lower cervical spine goes into hyperflexion (making the vertebrae in your neck tilt too far forward), while your upper cervical spine goes into hyperextension.
This can lead to the following:
When your neck muscles try to work against gravity to keep your head held up, they become at risk for strains and spasms. The muscles in your neck, upper back, and shoulders may become tight, tense, and shortened.
Hunched appearance and back pain
Your neck muscles aren’t the only muscles trying to accommodate your posture. When your neck is pulled forward, your shoulders are also pulled forward. This creates a hunched appearance and can contribute to neck pain, shoulder tension, and upper back pain.
When tense, strained muscles become inflamed, they can press on (or irritate) nearby nerves, leading to a potential pinched nerve. Pinched nerves cause burning or stinging pain as well as tingling and numbness. Because nerves run from your neck to your arms and hands, you may also experience these symptoms in your neck, shoulders, arms, or hands.
If you chronically use bad posture, you risk making other back conditions worse. Poor posture puts too much stress on the discs in your spine, your facet joints, and your vertebrae. This can exacerbate underlying degenerative spine issues, including cervical degenerative disc disease and cervical osteoarthritis.
Not to mention, muscle tension and pinched nerves can contribute to decreased mobility, pain, and quality of life.
Practice good posture
Good posture 一 in terms of how you hold your neck 一 is a position in which your ears are directly above your shoulders. Your chest is open, and your shoulders are back. To keep this posture:
- Keep your computer monitor, tablet, or phone at eye level and avoid staring down at your devices
- Use wireless headsets when speaking on the phone, and never hold your phone up with your shoulder
- When sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent and avoid crossing your legs
- When standing, stand straight and tall, your chin up, your shoulders back, pull in your abdomen, and keep your feet shoulder-width apart
You can even use good posture when sleeping! Two neck-friendly sleeping positions are side sleeping and sleeping flat on your back. The key to good posture, though, is using the right pillow. Back sleepers do well with a rounded neck pillow to support the natural curve of your neck. Side sleepers should choose a not-too-thick pillow designed for side sleepers to support their neck.
Find relief for neck pain
While the above ergonomic tips can help you prevent muscle pain in the future, what should you do if you already have neck pain? The good news is many treatments help soothe sore muscles. At-home treatments include warm compresses, gentle massages, and stretches.
Our team of orthopedic specialists can also help you manage neck pain. Depending on your needs, and if you have pinched nerves and/or strained muscles, we may recommend:
- Physical therapy
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Radiofrequency ablation
Is posture affecting your neck? To learn more about how posture affects your neck or to explore your treatment options, schedule an appointment in our Arlington, Virginia, or Washington DC, office. You can also reach us at 202-851-7034.