Many of our modern workforce today have high risks of developing a wide range of long-term health issues. Workers are not only exposed to unhealthy work environments, but the majority also practice poor posture.
Our dependence on technology is probably one of the root causes of the increasing prevalence of poor posture in various occupations and at a younger age. With modern life (like too much time spent in front of computers or bent over mobile devices), poor posture is more than just a bad habit and is becoming an epidemic. In the United States, over 31 million people suffer from poor posture.
You probably don’t realize it now, but poor posture issues can extend further than neck and back pain. When you live a sedentary lifestyle or when your job requires you to sit in front of a desk for hours, it can contribute to problems with depression, lung capacity, and digestive issues over time.
This article outlines seven surprising health risks of poor posture and tips on what you can do to address them.
Table of Contents
What is Posture?
Posture refers to how your spine curves and muscles engage when standing, sitting, or lying down. How you position your body and the habits formed over the years can significantly influence your posture. A good posture involves your spine and muscles working together to hold your body against gravity with minimal strain and tension on supportive structures.
On the other hand, poor posture is when your body doesn’t have proper alignment while sitting or standing. This improper positioning forces your body to use increased energy just to stay upright. And because your muscles and tendons are not working efficiently, It strains and stresses your body even more.
Over time, as your muscles continue to get stretched and weakened or become shortened and tight, it leads to fatigue and wears down your body. If you don’t take measures to correct your posture, you may experience pain and many other complications to your health.
What Causes Poor Posture?
Aside from our bad habits such as slouching and inactivity, several factors may get in the way of good posture, including:
- Lack of awareness
- Technological advancements
- Repetitive motions/poor biomechanics
- Workstations that don’t provide proper ergonomics
- Carrying heavy bags (especially over shoulders)
- Carrying extra body weight
- Weak muscles
- Looking down at your phone for long periods
Does Past Trauma Affect Postural Habits?
While external factors can affect how we sit or stand, sometimes our posture and movements are from habits we developed in the past. Researchers believe that our experiences as young children not only determine our actions but also influence the structure of our bodies. For example, postural habits like slouching may be a form of retreat behavior in response to anxiety from repeated disapproval from others.
According to the European Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, traumatic experiences can be associated with children’s physical tendencies, including their movements, postural habits, gestures, and facial expressions. Once you learn these habits in response to past trauma, they become programmed and can occur and persevere without conscious intent. This means that your past experiences can strongly influence your posture and movements, leading you back to your old habits without thinking about them.
Health Complications of Poor Posture
Many of us, especially office workers, are guilty of having poor posture from time to time. Factors such as poorly designed workspaces, fatigue at the end of a long day, or an awful night of sleep contribute to how badly we position our bodies. However, when you often neglect to stand or sit straight and engage your muscles, it may lead to several health complications.
Here are seven surprising health risks of bad posture you need to know.
1. Neck, Shoulder, and Back Pain
Pain is the first sign and the most common outcome of poor posture. Your neck, spine, and shoulders are the areas that take on the most stress during your work day. While poor posture is not an instant source of pain, continued problems with posture can cause misalignment in the spine, contributing to additional pain and excessive joint stress.
When the spine is misaligned, the connective tissue that protects the joints in your body will start to deteriorate. The more you sit in unnatural positions or without body support, the more likely you’ll experience pain and discomfort in your neck, shoulders, and back areas of your body.
2. Poor Circulation
Studies show that even slight changes in posture can negatively affect peripheral blood flow, as seen in the Plethysmogram readings. Poor posture can cause poor circulation with tight muscles and joints, leading to a compromised blood supply to various body parts. For example, sitting with your legs crossed can increase the pressure of gases and fluids moving through your body.
Sitting or standing for a prolonged period can also lead to poor venous blood flow to your lower extremities, resulting in joint pains and muscle cramping.
3. High Blood Pressure
Science has shown that poor posture may lead to cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure. According to a study held at the University of Leeds, slouching while standing or slumping while sitting puts more pressure on your heart and lungs, which raises your blood pressure.
Researchers also believe there’s a link between neck muscles and the area of the brain that helps regulate blood pressure. When poor posture (slouching) triggers those neck muscles, it may result in hypertension.
4. Nerve Constriction
One of the long-term effects of poor posture includes altering the position of the spine and other bones. When this happens, your bones and muscles can put unnecessary pressure on the surrounding nerves and causes the pinching of nerves. This pinched nerve can cause pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness throughout your body, especially in your neck and back.
If the nerve compression occurs at your median nerve, this may result in carpal tunnel syndrome — a condition that causes pain and weakness in your hand and wrist. In worst cases, recurrent nerve compression may result in neuropathy or permanent nerve damage.
5. Impaired Lung Function
For your lungs to function at their best, your rib cage and diaphragm should have enough space to allow the lungs to expand fully. However, if you have chronic poor posture, such as leaning or hunching forward all the time, it will crush your lungs inwards and restrict oxygen flow around the body, making breathing harder.
Aside from shortness of breath, impaired lung function from poor posture also leads to poor cognitive function and even cardiac and vascular disease. Without proper, healthy breaths, your brain, heart, and other vital organs won’t get the oxygen they need.
6. Digestive and Stomach Issues
If you have a desk job and sit poorly throughout the day, you’re more likely to experience digestive issues. Bad postural habits compress your stomach and intestines, slowing the digestive process and making it harder to eliminate waste. This disrupted digestion may lead to bloating, constipation, and acid reflux.
Moreover, poor posture, like hunching forward often, can cause incontinence or leaking by putting additional pressure on your bladder.
7. Increased Depression and Stress
In today’s modern world, many people deal with stress and depression every day. While several things can influence our moods and emotions, neglecting our posture can make it harder to manage them. One study suggests that adopting an upright posture can help maintain self-esteem in the face of stress, while slumped posture may increase negative mood.
In another study, students who slouched experienced higher feelings of depression and showed lower energy levels. More recent data demonstrated that working posture is associated with worker’s depression and that appropriate management for pain-inducing or improper working posture is necessary for every workplace.
Tips for Improving Poor Posture
Correcting a bad habit like slouching is not always easy, and realigning your body or sitting the right way may feel uncomfortable at first. Yet adopting proper posture offers a lot of health benefits in the long run. You can start by strengthening your core, glutes, back, and shoulder muscles. It helps reduce muscle fatigue and makes it easier for your body to stay in the correct position.
Here are some tips that will help improve your posture and prevent potential health complications:
Stand up Straight
Standing straight is one of the simplest ways to improve your posture. It keeps your spine and muscles in proper alignment, which improves blood flow, supports your muscles, and helps keep your nerves and blood vessels healthy. Train yourself to stand up straight by:
- Keeping your shoulders back
- Pulling your stomach in
- Keeping your head level
- Keeping your feet about shoulder-width apart
- Letting your arms hang down naturally at your sides
- Putting your weight on the balls of your feet
Another way to practice good posture is to sit correctly, especially since sitting for long periods is linked with various health concerns. If you have a desk job, you must learn how to position your body while sitting for several hours. The following tips will help you avoid the side effects of prolonged sitting:
- Switch sitting position often
- Ankles should be in front of the knees
- Avoid crossing your legs
- Keep your feet on the ground
- Relax your shoulders
- Make sure your back is fully supported
- Take frequent breaks and brief walks around the office or home.
Aside from teaching yourself to stand and sit properly, there are a few tools available to help correct your posture, such as:
- Posture corrector – Some physical therapists might recommend using back braces for physical support in keeping you upright and in the correct position.
- Go digital – Make use of technology and wear gadgets that can sync to your smartphone, which will remind you of your posture from time to time.
- Physical therapy – If you’re having trouble getting rid of your bad postural habits, you may need help from a professional, like a physical therapist.
- Yoga exercises – Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to build strong muscles, maintain proper alignment, and develop body awareness.
While improving your posture is not the primary solution for achieving better health and well-being, it does play a significant role in how your body feels and functions. It can also bear a lot on whether or not you acquire some chronic health issues in the long run. If you have a desk job, standing and sitting correctly while at work goes a long way to help prevent certain long-term health complications, such as high blood pressure, impaired lung function, or even depression.
The human body will always be vulnerable to diseases — either from pathogens or poor life choices. Some are usually preventable, while others are barely manageable. Our best defense is to live a healthy lifestyle and adjust our bad habits. Now that you know how important posture is, you can start adopting proper posture and free yourself from unnecessary health risks.
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