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How poor posture can affect your health

By: Claire Mills, Physiotherapist and founder of Core LDN

First published: 3rd June 2024

Featured in: Stylist.co.uk

How poor posture can affect your health - posture corrector

A lot of the back, neck and shoulder pain I see is related in some way to poor posture. We found that lots of people’s posture worsened during the pandemic due to increased time spent sitting and not moving, and many people are still struggling with makeshift working from home set-ups. But simply sitting more and spending large chunks of the day looking at screens are also contributing factors.


But poor posture is about so much more than being a little hunched over, it can have a knock-on effect across the body.


Here are some of the ways poor posture can affect your health, and how to deal with it.


The Brain


From a neuromuscular point of view, everything functions better when you’ve got good alignment through the spine because it allows the nerves and blood vessels to function properly. But if you have poor posture – for example, you’re slouching or slumping over a lot – then there’s more likely to be pressure on that system.


Tension and pain can have an effect on your cognitive function because you’re stimulating your pain system, which has been shown to have a number of effects. Experiencing chronic pain because of poor posture may also affect your mental health.


Musculoskeletal system 

In poor postures you have muscles which are short, overactive and tense, and muscles which are weak and lengthened. And when muscles are overly tight or lengthened, they don’t function properly, because they don’t have an optimal length-tension relationship.


When your muscles can’t work the way they’re supposed to, the system gets overloaded. The tight muscles get tighter and the weaker muscles get weaker, so you’re constantly in this state of imbalance, which can lead to pain, for example, headaches.

Headaches are a common issue among people with ‘poking chin posture’ – a postural issue commonly found among desk workers. This posture sees the upper back and shoulders become hunched and rounded while the chin pokes forward, leading to tension in the back of the head which can lead to headaches and general stiffness.


If you have muscular tension pulling something one way, it can change how a joint is functioning and moving. Different joints have different planes of movement, but that tension can affect the loading on different vertebrae and bone structures, which could put you at risk of degeneration further down the line.


Lungs and diaphragm


The impact poor posture could have on breathing can be massive. I have worked a lot with clients to help them release their diaphragms because of slouching – it was a particularly big issue during the pandemic. This happens because, when you’re slouching, you’re constantly placing pressure on your thorax [chest] and diaphragm, so you’re not able to expand the chest to get that deep breathing. And that makes you more likely to breathe shallowly at the very top of the ribs.


Of course, this stops you getting as much oxygen into your bloodstream, which can have a knock-on effect on everything from your cognitive function to your energy levels. Shallow breathing can also place the body in a cyclical state of stress (it triggers the body’s stress response, and that encourages shallow breathing) which can be detrimental in the long-term. 


Digestive system


Slouching over can also put pressure on your digestive system, which may lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Your digestion can really slow as a result of that pressure, and the pressure can increase your risk of things like heartburn and indigestion.


The impact of poor posture on your breathing can also have a knock-on effect on digestion, because being stuck in the fight or flight stress response diverts resources away from the digestive system, slowing things down overall. This can lead to symptoms such as constipation.  


Pelvic health


All the pressure that builds up in our chest and abdomen as a result of poor posture has to go somewhere, and that can mean complications for our pelvic health. Because poor posture increases intra-abdominal pressure, it can have implications for the pelvic floor.


Often when we have clients who are struggling with incontinence – particularly stress incontinence – we’ll be looking at their posture to optimise the intra-abdominal pressure and the impact that has on the pelvic floor, as well as the tension-length relationship in the muscles in and around the pelvic floor, too.


How can I correct poor posture?


Poor posture doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but it can be hard to unpick. Poor posture is a “habit” our bodies are used to. But if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work there are steps you can take to help correct it.


1. Identify the major issues


If you’re not aware of it, you can’t change it. You can go and get a massage or treatment and have tension released, but if you don’t do anything about the day-to-day afterwards, it’s just going to come straight back. So, you want to become aware of good posture, how yours measures up, and what you can do to change it.


Some markers of good posture to keep an eye out for are a lengthening through the spine and having your ribcage floating up and away from the pelvis rather than leaning towards it. Of course, the areas you need to focus on will depend on where your posture problems lie – some people will struggle with rounded shoulders (which will require you to work on opening your collarbone), while others might struggle with a pelvic tilt (which will require strengthening your glutes, among other things).


2. Mix up your workouts


One of the best ways to work on your posture is to strengthen the muscles in and around the areas you’re struggling with. However, just focusing on one area isn’t a smart idea.


Ultimately, you want to be strengthening and mobilising the body to prevent further imbalances. A form of exercise such as Pilates is good because it’s quite focused on posture, so it’s going to teach you how to correctly work the muscles that help to create good form. But you need to be mixing up your workouts as well as including something which teaches good posture. I'm not a big fan of a posture corrector but aids to prompt when you fall in to bad habit with poor posture, such as taping, can make sure the body stays nice and balanced.


That might mean mixing up the type of cardio you do – such as swimming, running, cycling or even walking for some light cardio – and pairing that with a variety of targeted strength training sessions with a few Pilates workouts on the side.


The types of muscles you want to focus on will depend on the problems you’re having, but building strength in your back and core will have the most impact.


3. Prioritise regular movement


Because poor posture can be caused by staying in the same position for too long – and therefore strengthening and weakening the muscles in and around the area – moving regularly throughout the working day is key to reducing your risk.


If you have a job that means you sit down for long periods of time, make sure to get up and move regularly. It’s sustained posture that often leads to poor form in the long run, so factoring that into your day and not sitting down for long periods by taking breaks, using a standing desk or just going for a walk will all make a difference.


At the end of the day, the longer you sit in a sustained posture, the more likely the muscles are going to change and adapt to that position.



About Core LDN


Aimed at revolutionising the fitness and rehabilitation landscape, Core LDN firmly believe

that a one size fits all approach simply doesn't apply to wellness. At the heart of Core LDN's philosophy is a team of expert physiotherapists dedicated to treating and rehabilitating all injuries. Through a fusion of exercise rehabilitation in specialised CORE classes, clients can experience the benefits of Physiotherapy-led Pilates. Whether in recovery mode, navigating pre/postnatal stages, or striving towards specific fitness objectives, individuals can harness the power of personalised Pilates sessions.


To find out more about Core LDN, book a physiotherapy initial appointment or Core LDN Pilates intro visit www.coreldn.com


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