Posture is probably one of those human actions that you won’t notice much or think of in your day-to-day life. But you will suddenly realise it if you start to experience body pain or tight muscles. The key to good body alignment begins from your head, as it is related to the rest of your body. Whether it is slouching, having slumped shoulders or dipping your head downwards or forwards, they can have adverse effects on your body and health in the long run. Even a tilted head for a prolonged period of time can lead to a stiff neck. If you let it stay like that for a long time, they can have quite drastic effects as you age! 😥
Having a poor posture will affect not just your spine, but also result in muscle imbalance which gives added stress, more pressure on the ligaments and also tension. Here, we look at some of the more direct consequences of bad posture. Let’s begin!
10 key adverse effects of bad posture
Deforming spine and affecting spinal curvature
Do you know how your spine looks like from the sides? There are three main natural curves in a spine that aligns properly. Overall, from our neck to hips, the spine forms a gentle ‘S’ shape. If we are not sitting, walking or standing properly, these natural curves change their shape, leading to a spine that is no longer in their original position.
What does this mean? Our bodies are such that with a good posture, our spines hold up our body, aided by postural muscles, bones, discs and ligaments. If we allow bad posture to go on, our spines are forced to put themselves in an unnatural way. Other body parts have to work harder to hold up the body. Overtime, our body ‘gets used’ to this postural position and becomes weaker and more susceptible to injuries.
Your head plays a critical role when it comes to maintaining a proper posture. This is because it is related to the rest of your body, as according to Rahul Shah, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon.
When your neck is not centered over your pelvis over a prolonged period of time, your spinal cord and muscles work harder and can cause tightness and compression around the neck and shoulders. An example will be forward head posture, which is when the neck leans forward. This places increasing stress on the cervical spine and can in turn lead to neck pain, neck muscle spasms and tension headaches.
Besides neck pain, tension headaches and migraines can also be closely related and may happen together, either concurrently or one after the other.
Having a poor posture means that your neck, upper back, and shoulders may be positioned in a misaligned way that tightens the muscles and increases tension around the head. This creates a clamp-like pressure around the forehead or at the back area of your head and can lead to headaches.
Tip: Take breaks from the computer or mobile phone. Try to relax and minimise your stress levels, no matter how difficult they may be. You can also use your fingers and apply pressure on your neck and your temples and give yourself a good massage too.
As we breathe, we inhale air and oxygen fills our lungs, and the lungs expand within our bodies. If we slouch on the sofa or chair, or hunch our backs as we walk, we are compressing our body parts and organs. This reduces the amount of ‘free space’ inside our bodies, which restricts the intercostal muscles and diaphragm and they cannot give enough room for the lungs to expand as we breathe. This means that the amount of oxygen that we breathe will be less (up to 30% reduction!). Less oxygen intake means more stress on the heart and lungs, which can lead to various medical conditions such as anxiety, increase in cortisol levels, high blood pressure and headaches.
Tip: Breathe deeper. Taking in deep breaths helps to expand your lungs to their fullest capacity, and in turn pushes out your chest to their rightful upright position! 😉
Lower back pain
Having lower back pain may not mean it is due to incorrect posture, but your posture can contribute and worsen or aggravate any pain in your lower back. (There are many causes to lower back pain other than poor posture).
When we have a slouched posture, our spine changes and deviates from its natural curves. This adds pressure on our core muscles, discs and also joints. It may even cause nerve damage. All these may contribute eventually to pain. If we don’t correct our posture soon, it may stay that way permanently and our body cannot adjust itself back to itself. Then, we will have to seek physical therapy and in worse cases, spine surgeons.
Tip: Sit up straight, walk upright and lift things correctly. Yes, we know it is easier said than done. It is difficult to correct postural behaviours as we may be already used to it. We will need certain reminders to help correct our ways to eventually make this into daily habitual actions.
Besides your body experiencing pain and aches, your feet are also impacted by bad posture. Poor body alignment can cause foot and ankle issues later on, as your body places stress on different parts of the feet due to an imbalance of weight as a result of a posture problem. As our feet are designed to hold our body weight in its natural weight load positions, a shift in our body weight will mean that the feet will have to handle the change in weight load, which can cause pain and poor blood circulation.
To manage foot pain, you will have to start by correcting your gait (way of walking) and the way you stand.
Besides aches and muscle tension, a less ideal body posture can cause compression and your skeletal system can come into contact with your nerves. Sheri Dewan, M.D., highlighted that having poor spinal posture, besides straining the spinal cord and leaving bones un-cushioned, it can constrict the nerves, and in turn triggering pain in the legs or hands.
When sitting for long hours or not standing in an upright manner for a long time, it affects not just your posture, but also circulation in your body.
Poor posture may cause compression on the arteries, muscles etc, which leads to poorer blood circulation throughout your body. With a reduced amount of healthy blood reaching every part of your body, your heart has to work harder too. And this may also cause high blood pressure!
Your digestive system may also be affected by a bad posture. First, by slouching or hunching or leaning forward too much, the awkward body position puts extra pressure on the stomach and intestines. This means the digestion process will be more difficult, and take a longer time. This can lead to bloating, feeling full for a long time and heartburn too.
Second, besides digestion, your bowels may be affected too. Some variations of faulty posture may affect the anus (as in, the anus gets partially closed). This makes it difficult to pass motion. Over time, this can even affect the lower abdomen and bladder, which may cause incontinence (the ability to hold or release urine).
Difficulty in sleeping
While there may not be conclusive evidence that links daytime posture and sleep, having a proper alignment can still contribute to a better quality of sleep. On the contrary, poor posture can force your body parts to work harder, and become more tired during the day. This can leave you with more fatigue, slower gait (manner of walking) and expending more energy as compared to the usual person.
Besides daytime posture, your sleeping positions can also affect your sleep quality too! For example, sleeping on your stomach can put extra pressure on your spine, which can lead to back pain when you wake up. Sleeping on your back, on the other hand, if without a back cushion, may cause your lower back to have insufficient support (also depends on your bed / mattress) and also sleep apnea (breathing stop and start during sleep).
What happens to your body and health in the long term?
If you have poor posture and let it continue without intervening, chances are neck pain, muscle spasms, joint aches etc may worsen and develop at increasing frequencies over time.
This may eventually snowball and contribute to chronic health problems such as osteoporosis, arthritis and bone spurs.
If your pain or health problem is no longer episodic but becoming chronic, you should consider seeking a physical therapist, chiropractor or an orthopedic doctor.
And start to take care of your body, maintain a better posture regularly and exercise more! 💪🦵🤸♀️