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Posture and Back Pain

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 2, 2023
Additions/comments by Neurologist Steve Schadendorf, MD

Back pain is a common affliction many of us suffer from. Back pain is one of the most common complaints that people go to see a doctor about. Over 80% of Americans report having lower back pain at some point in their lives, and 8% of all adults have chronic back pain. And as you get older, you may find yourself experiencing back pain more and more often. You might be aware of the cause; maybe you attempted to lift something heavy, maybe you fell while playing sports, or maybe you just sat at the computer for too long.


But back pain can also present itself completely at random. If you’ve been having back pain and you have no idea why, it could be that your posture needs work.


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Chronic Back Pain

Chronic Back Pain

The link between bad posture and back pain


When you walk around with poor posture for a long time, the tissues in your lower back start to become weaker. Your entire back essentially becomes reconfigured. The U.S. National Institutes of Health put it more technically: Bad posture can “misalign your musculoskeletal system.”


Not everyone with bad posture experiences back pain, but the two are certainly connected. That’s why improving your posture is the first thing you should do when you notice that your back is giving you trouble.


How can I improve my posture?


It’s not easy to completely change the way you sit and walk, especially if you’ve been living with poor posture for years. And in this day and age, bad posture is more common than ever. Modern life often requires us to sit at a desk for a majority of the day, and we’re always looking down at our cell phones. As a result, our posture is impacted.


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Back Pain: Ergonomics

Back Pain: Ergonomics

But that doesn’t mean we’re fated to a lifetime of bad posture. If you decide to actively start making changes to your posture, you’ll start to get used to the new way you hold yourself. Here are some ways you can improve your posture immediately.


When standing / walking


  • Stand up straight. Don’t slouch.
  • Pull back your shoulders.
  • Pull in your stomach.
  • Try to keep your head up and look in front of you rather than at the ground.


When sitting


  • Sit as if a string is attached to the top of your head and someone is gently pulling on it.
  • Consciously repeat this several times a day for 2-3 minutes.
  • Get up from your chair every now and then to stretch your legs.
  • Don’t cross your legs. Keep your feet planted on the floor.
  • If your feet don’t touch the floor, get a foot stool or footrest.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Back support is important. If your chair doesn’t have built-in back support, use a pillow or backrest.
  • Make sure your buttocks touch the back of your chair.


In general


  • Stay physically fit. Overweight and obese people usually have poor posture due to excess weight.
  • Wear comfortable shoes that provide foot support.
  • Pay attention to your posture while sitting or standing. It’s easy to slip back into bad posture without even knowing it. Mindfulness is key.


If you’ve made these changes to your posture, your back pain might just not be a problem anymore. If you’re still experiencing back pain despite having improved your posture, it would be a good idea to see a doctor or physiotherapist.

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