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How Poor Posture Causes Back Pain

How Poor Posture Causes Back Pain

Back pain affects a staggering number of adults each year and is one of the most common reasons people miss work or seek medical care. Many factors can contribute to back pain, including injuries, arthritis, poor lifting mechanics, and weakness. However, one underlying and modifiable culprit behind many cases of back discomfort is poor sitting and standing posture. 

At Physical Therapy Advantage in Aurora, physical therapists frequently help patients improve postural habits to relieve associated back pain and strain. Read on to learn more does bad posture causes back pain.

Loss of Natural Spinal Curves

Ideal upright posture involves maintaining the spine’s three natural physiological curves - at the neck, mid, and low back. These gentle curves help the vertebral column distribute body weight and absorb forces properly. Back pain from poor posture often allows the back to slump out of alignment, flattening the natural curves. 

Loss of the neck’s lordotic curve strains the cervical discs and nerves, loss of the thoracic kyphosis weakens the mid-back muscles, and flattening of the low back curve strains the spine’s ligaments, increases spinal disc pressure and triggers low back muscle tension as a compensatory stabilizer.

Over time, loss of the back’s ideal alignment places abnormal loads on spinal tissues, leading to pain and degeneration.

Adaptive Shortening of Postural Muscles  

When we routinely assume poor posture for prolonged periods, the body adapts by shortening connective tissues and muscles in those abnormal positions. Forward shoulder and head postures cause shortening and tightness of the chest wall and anterior neck muscles, while rounded low back postures shorten the hip flexors. 

These posturally imbalanced muscles then forcefully tug the vertebrae out of a neutral position even when upright, putting strain on the spinal discs and joints. 

Imbalanced pulling also tires the back extensor muscles, trying to compensate, resulting in fatigue and discomfort. Stretching shortened tissues while strengthening weak opposing muscle groups helps rebalance alignment.

Abnormal Shearing and Compression Forces 

Ideal neutral spinal alignment allows for even weight distribution through the back’s vertebral segments and disks under the influence of gravity. However, posture deviations lead to uneven or excessive force across vulnerable structures. 

For example, those who slouch or lean forward generate increased shear forces within vertebral joint articulations not designed for significant anterior translation. They also experience heightened vertebral compression, loading their intervertebral discs in excess. 

Such abnormal spinal mechanics accelerate degenerative changes and back pain due to bad posture over time through damage to nonresilient joint surfaces and discs. Consciously aligning the back properly reduces deleterious forces.

Intervertebral Disc Strain Patterns

Spinal discs serve as the spine’s shock absorbers between vertebrae. But they are vulnerable to damage from sustained awkward postures. For example, lumbar flexion strains posterior disc fibers while extension strains anterior disc fibers. Side bending or twisting causes an asymmetric disc bulge on one side, called torsional strain.

Such disc stress damages the delicate internal matrix, leading to cracked discs, bulges, and painful irritation of nearby spinal nerve roots. Postural self-correction helps by repositioning vertebral segments into properly stacked alignment over one another, minimizing harmful asymmetric disc forces during movement.

Spinal Ligament Laxity  

Ligaments work alongside muscles to provide spinal joint stability and limit excessive segmental movement. However, lax supportive ligaments become common after long-term poor posture due to the constant uneven loading. 

Loose ligaments then allow too much motion between vertebrae or soft tissue inflammation - especially in the lower back and neck areas, which support considerable weight. 

This leads to pinched nerves, gradual disc damage, osteoarthritic changes, and, ultimately, chronic pain. Reestablishing ideal postural alignment helps take tension off loose ligaments so inflammation can resolve while stabilizing muscle strength.

Spinal Nerve Root Compression

Due to postural influences like disc pathology, vertebral misalignment, or ligament laxity that narrows the neural foramina channels, spinal nerve roots can become impinged when exiting the spinal canal. Nerve compression leads to symptoms like radiating pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness along dermatomal distributions. 

Restoring neutral posture widens foraminal apertures, takes the pressure off damaged discs that protrude, helps move vertebral segments off pinched nerve roots, and resolves alarming radiating symptoms. Manual therapists can also help mobilize fixated joints that contribute to nerve entrapments related to postural faults.

Trigger Point Formation

When muscles stay locked in shortened positions or continuously activate to compensate for unstable posture, they develop hyperirritable tender knots called myofascial trigger points. Myofascial trigger points cause sharp local pain with referrals to other areas. 

For example, psoas trigger points from excessive hip flexion with sitting refer to pain in the lower back, or abdominal trigger points refer to the thoracolumbar junction. 

Postural correction helps relax perpetually contracted muscle groups, allowing trigger points to release. Back pain therapy in Aurora directed at trigger points also helps muscles unwind while restoring flexibility.

Habitual Overuse of Specific Muscle Groups

The body’s intricate muscular balance across joints provides fluid movement and stability. However, chronic poor posture back pain leads to over-dependence on particular muscle groups for compensation while opposing muscle groups lengthen and weaken from disuse. 

For example, those who slump forward overly recruit pecs and upper trapezius while their mid-back rhomboids and scapular stabilizers fatigue. 

Wondering can bad posture cause back pain? In short, Yes, it can cause back pain.

Such dysfunctional muscular imbalances then worsen posture issues through unopposed pulling. Carefully tailored exercise programs can help reestablish harmony in joints by releasing tight tissues while correcting strength deficits.

Forward Head Posture Epidemic from Tech Overuse

The domination of computer usage and smartphones universally fosters a forward head tilt posture that strains the upper back and neck. When the head protrudes forward, it adds weight in front of the body’s centre of gravity. The upper back must work much harder to fight gravity, support this weight, and prevent the body from tipping over. 

Up to 60% increased weight-bearing demands on cervical spine structures ultimately manifest as chronic burning between shoulder blades or headaches. Minimizing tech-related posture faults through ergonomics and postural correction is crucial for pain prevention.

The Role of Ergonomics in Correcting Posture

Many postural habits stem from inadequate ergonomic setups in modern work and home environments. From suboptimal desk and computer monitor positions to sagging mattresses exacerbating poor sleep postures, improper ergonomics perpetuate alignment faults.

Physical therapists complete detailed environmental and occupational assessments to identify equipment deficiencies contributing to patients' postural strain. Recommendations like external computer monitors, lumbar cushions, standing desks, proper chair adjustments, supportive bedding, and optimized lighting help minimize negative biomechanical pressures. Adopting ergonomic best practices makes sustaining good posture effortless.

High Heel Hazards Alter Postural Alignment

Fashionable but unstable high-heeled shoes radically shift body positioning in ways that directly impact spinal health. As heel height increases, the pelvis tilts forward, the low back arches more sharply, losing its natural curve, and the neck protrudes - completely disrupting balanced posture. 

Wearers also unconsciously lock knees and grip toes to avoid toppling over, creating muscle guarding and associated trigger points. Changing into supportive low heels or flats as often as possible can help minimize postural deviations and reduce back strain. Sneaker wedges also provide healthier options without sacrificing style.

Psychosocial Factors That Perpetuate Poor Posture

Both physiological and psychological factors interplay to sustain postural dysfunction in pain sufferers beyond simply muscle imbalances. Lifestyle stressors, negative emotions like anxiety or depression, social isolation, poor body image, and low motivation all enhance disability associated with posture-related pain. 

Psychologists help address emotional-cognitive barriers to postural correction adherence and self-care, while physical therapists focus on biomechanical training. Multidisciplinary treatment fosters the confidence and mindfulness needed to overcome chronic postural problems.

Rounded Shoulders from Prolonged Sitting 

Shoulder roundedness also pervades modern desk-based lifestyles, leading to tight chests and weakened upper back muscles. Rounded shoulders migrate upward, reducing the efficient biomechanical length of upper limb muscles for reach and function. Such postures also impede ideal scapular movement, contributing to shoulder injuries and pain. 

Plus, the sunken appearance even exacerbates poor body image for some. Committing to regular upper crossed syndrome self-corrections preserves shoulder and scapular mobility vital for upper body strength and avoiding injury.

Core Weakness Allows Pelvis to Shift Forward

Frontward rotation of the pelvis characterizes one very common postural distortion pattern correlated with back pain because hip flexors shorten while abdominal muscles lengthen. This pulls the lower lumbar vertebrae forward, straining spinal tissues and overriding proper spinal curves. 

Core muscles like the transverse abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm normally anchor the pelvis in neutral. However, weakness and improper muscle recruitment result in dysfunctional pelvic positioning. Core stabilization training helps counteract undesirable pelvic misalignment.


Does slouching cause lower back pain? For individuals struggling with chronic back discomfort but unsure of the cause or solution, evaluating posture and working to correct imbalanced habits often provides one of the missing links by addressing mechanical strain on the spine.

At places like Physical Therapy Advantage in Aurora, specialized movement experts can pinpoint which postural deviations contribute most to each patient’s pain presentation, and they will provide you with the best Aurora physical therapy.

They can then teach tailored exercises to stretch tightness, strengthen areas of disuse, re-educate balanced muscle recruitment, and ingrain healthier postural alignment. With dedication to postural correction techniques as part of a comprehensive therapeutic plan of care, patients can finally overcome persistent back pain.

COVID-19 Update: Due to the continued COVID-19 concerns we wanted to update everyone on our current policies. We are still considered to be an essential healthcare provider, but as of January 1, 2023...