As CBD physiotherapists, we see patient after patient come through our doors with poor posture, often as the result of long days spent chained to their computers. Not only do their postural problems look bad (think hunched back, rounded shoulders), they often result in tension and pain. So, because our aim at The Alignment Studio is to help you feel (and look) your best, our physios have put together this list of six of the most common signs of poor posture. Read on to discover how your posture stacks up, and to learn some tricks to help you sit, stand and walk a little taller.
1. Rounded shoulders (and tight pecs)
Occurring in tandem, high rounded shoulders and tight pectoral muscles are signs of poor posture common among office workers. Excessive time spent sitting at a computer can lead to a tightening and shortening of the muscles in the front of the shoulders (pectorals), and a lengthening and weakening of the back muscles.
Rounded shoulders can also result from muscular imbalances that occur when too much focus is placed on developing the chest muscles at the gym, while neglecting the upper/mid back. Doing so places increased strain on the shoulder joint and can cause rotator cuff tears and impingement.
Rounded shoulders can be corrected by stretching the front of the chest and neck, while strengthening the back muscles.
2. Forward head carriage
A forward head carriage arises from poor postures that cause the neck to slant forwards, usually while at the computer, or when using mobile phones or tablets. Hence the coining of the term tech neck.
This forward slant of the neck places a lot more stress on the cervical spine and can create muscle imbalances as the body compensates to find efficient ways to hold the head upright. Over time, a forward head carriage can lead to degenerative changes in the neck, cause disc bulges and, potentially, nerve impingement.
Stretching the neck muscles and restoring normal range of motion as well as strengthening the back and postural muscles will help reduce the symptoms of tech neck. With its focus on posture and movements that stretch, strengthen and stabilise, Pilates is perfect for long-term management. In the office, improving the ergonomics of your workstation, using a standing desk, and moving regularly will all help to correct a forward head carriage.
3. Hunched back (kyphosis)
A hunched back, aka thoracic kyphosis, is another result of poor posture, and is most common in adolescents and young adults. It also often occurs alongside a forward head carriage and rounded shoulders in office workers, in a condition known as Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Another cause of kyphosis is Scheuermann’s disease, which is characterised by abnormal growth of the thoracic spine. Here the thoracic spine starts to lose mobility and become rounded, giving a hunchback appearance.
Postural kyphosis is corrected easily by standing up straight and maintaining an upright posture, alongside ergonomic improvements, while the treatment for Scheuermann’s disease involves physiotherapy and a stretching/mobility program. Bracing may also be needed if the person is still growing.
4. Recurring headaches
Recurring headaches are quite common among office workers with poor postural habits. A forward head carriage puts the joints and discs of the neck under a lot of strain as they struggle to support the weight of the head. The muscles of the neck are overworked in this position and it creates a lot of tension where they attach into the back of the skull. This in turn creates tension headaches. (However, they can also be triggered by stress and grinding teeth.)
Physiotherapy assessment is needed to assess the neck’s mobility and strength. Massage, dry needling and joint mobilisation will help to relieve the symptoms. A stretching and strengthening program in conjunction with an ergonomic assessment will help prevent recurrent problems.
5. Tilted pelvis
Excessive sitting or a predominantly desk-bound job can cause tightness in the hip flexors, which run from the lower back into the front of the hip. Tight hip flexors result in the pelvis rotating forward. This can cause an increased curvature of the both the lower and upper back, which can result in pain.
The pelvis should sit in a relatively neutral position and be able to tilt backwards and forwards without any limitation or pain. General hip strengthening, especially through the glutes, as well as core strengthening can help. It is also important to break up the length of time spent sitting.
6. Back/ neck pain
Poor posture leads to muscular imbalances and can result in pain, particularly throughout the upper body. For instance, a forward head carriage increases the workload through the neck and upper back muscles to hold the ‘increased’ weight of the head against gravity. Over time, this causes stiffness in joints and strain through the neck and upper back muscles, resulting in pain.
Break up the length of time you spend sitting, do neck and upper back stretches throughout the day, and talk to your physiotherapist about strengthening exercises to help you maintain good posture. Try to be mindful of your posture and correct often, ensuring there is a gentle curve through your neck, upper back and lower back so that your head sits directly on top of your shoulders and trunk. (Head here for postural tips when sitting and standing.)
Ana Coan is an experienced and passionate physiotherapist with a decade of experience and qualifications in Pilates, fitness, dry needling and Functional Movement Screening. With a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from Santa Catarina State University (Brazil), Ana has worked in private practice, aged care facilities and with a junior swim team. A former champion swimmer, she brings a unique perspective and keen interest in sports-related musculoskeletal injuries, women’s health and chronic pain to her treatments.