How Does Poor Posture Lead to Back Pain?
Back pain can occur because of poor alignment and muscle fatigue from poor posture. Back pain is a leading cause of disease burden in Australia – in fact, 1 in 6 Australian’s suffer from back pain, and 38% of sufferers find it interferes with their daily activities.*
*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020.
So how can poor posture result in back pain? Well, poor posture interferes with the body’s stability by impacting several factors such as muscle strength, the nervous system and which muscle fibres we’re using. Static (slow-twitch) muscle fibres are found in deeper muscle layers and are used for posture and balance, whilst phasic (fast-twitch) muscle fibres are generally used for movement and activity and tire quickly. When we have poor posture, the body uses phasic fibres instead of static fibres to maintain balance, which causes our phasic fibres to fatigue. Over time, the deeper supporting muscles can waste away from lack of use and shorten which can compact the bones of the spine, making our posture worse and resulting in back pain, and other aches and pains in the body.
The long-term effects of poor posture can extend beyond body pain and have an effect on many parts of your body, making you more prone to injuries. Without good posture, your muscles tighten over time and become fatigued, leaving you feeling pain and in the long term, potentially causing issues with other muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, or nerves.
Tips for Good Posture at Home
If you are going to be sitting at a table or desk at home, getting the right chair is very important. It should be adjustable and should support your lower back. Start by sitting back in your seat so that you maintain contact between your back and the seatback. Then, adjust your chair, making sure that your feet are not dangling and are instead flat on the floor and try to keep your knees in line with your hips.
Strengthen your back
Some exercises can be done to help strengthen your back muscles and improve your posture. Your doctor, physiotherapist, or chiropractor may advise on specific strengthening exercises, or if you are looking to maintain muscle strength, you could try adding the following exercises into your daily routine.
- Kneeling stretch – start on your hands and knees, with your knees aligned underneath your hips. Then, keeping your hands still, gently sit back on your heels and lower your head to get a stretch through your spine (known as a ‘child’s pose’ yoga position). Come back to the starting position and repeat 5 times.
- Back extension – lie flat on a bed with your face and hips down, and hands either side of your shoulders. Then push against your hands to slowly lift your head and shoulders off the bed, keeping your hips and lower body flat against the bed (known as the ‘cobra’ yoga position). Gently lower back down and repeat 5 times.
- Knees to chest – lie on your back, facing the ceiling with your legs stretched out. Then bring your knees towards your chest so your hips roll off the floor to feel a stretch in the lower part of your back. Hold your knees in that position for 5 seconds, then release and repeat 5 times.
Most of us need around eight hours of sleep a night. Having the wrong mattress can be detrimental to our posture, whilst choosing the right one can help to minimise factors that might lead to back pain, as well as impact your quality of sleep.
Get a good mattress
A supportive mattress is what you should be looking for but that varies from person to person. To find the right one for you, lay on the mattress and try it in the store before you purchase it. Ensure it is supportive enough to keep your spine straight when lying on your side.
Adjust your workspace
Your computer screen should be directly in front of you at an arm's length away at the correct level – the top of your screen should be just at or slightly below eye level otherwise this could lead to problems with your neck and back. When your screen is in the right position, be sure to adjust it to the correct brightness as well. A wrist rest on your mouse mat may reduce pressure on your wrists and hands.
Back Pain Relief
If you ever find you are experiencing pain, Nurofen can provide effective temporary relief of body pain such as muscle or back pain for up to 8 hours**– but if you find you have recurring pain on a regular basis, or pain that doesn’t ease, see your doctor.
**Mehlisch et al. 2010. Sponsored by RB.