Back pain is a pain in the, well, you know. After a day of sitting at my desk all day and slouching over my computer as I type from sun up to sun down, I often rise from my seat with some serious soreness in my back. I know that having bad posture all day is to blame, but what I didn't know is that this same bad posture can have a lasting negative effect on my back. The reality is that there are many subtle indications from your bad posture that you're likely to have serious back issues down the road.
According to Prevention, there are many weird ways that your posture messes with you. Having bad posture can deepen depression, cause career problems, cut off your circulation, and increase your stress levels, among other things. Of course, the most common thing that can result from your bad posture is back pain that only gets worse over time.
You might already know some of the culprits of bad posture (such as slouching and sitting all day) and how they affect your back pain long-term, but there's more. Here are 11 ways to know when your bad posture might be increasing or worsening your back pain.
1. You Start To Feel Uncomfortable
In an interview with Romper, American Physical Therapy Association spokesman Eric Robertson says one of the ways to tell that you have bad posture is when you begin to feel uncomfortable while maintaining the same position for a long time. But the story doesn't end there. In order to first understand if you have bad posture, you must first define what bad posture is.
"It's important to understand that people exist in a range," Robertson tells Romper. "What is normal for one person might not be normal for another. Our body is strangely tolerant to a wide array of posture."
2. You Get Headaches
According to Robertson, another indicator of bad posture is getting a headache. This is because a headache can result from "sitting slumped on your couch, and your head was forward, and you're looking up at the television," Robertson says.
3. Your Shoulders Tighten Or Spasm
This is a common posture mistake that can lead to more serious problems down the road. "These minor aches and pains that are repetitive and predictable, related to what position you will find yourself in, are indicative that your posture is off," Robertson tells Romper.
4. You Get Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps may seem like not a big deal and a typical issue of posture, but they could spell issues down the road. According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, there is a way for you to self-diagnose your own back issues with a method that he details in his book.
Stand up with your shoulders straight and pull your chin back over your spine. Put your hands on your back, and you will feel that your back muscles are quiet. Then, slouch your shoulders. Instantly, you will feel those back muscles activate. When those back muscles are "on all day because of poor posture," then you are likely to create a back muscle cramp, McGill tells Romper.
5. You Experience Pain Over Time
"Poor posture creates tissue stress, that stress over time leads to pain," McGill tells Romper, "And if it's there long enough and it accumulates enough, it will eventually lead to a change in the tissue. That will begin as irritation but it will eventually end up as injury."
McGill also stresses that it is important for patients to do a self-assessment in order to determine what is causing their posture discomfort. Because everyone is different and their back pain and tolerance falls on a spectrum, it's important to full understand what is causing your posture problems before finding a solution to the issue.
"Your postural trigger might be different from mine, so you have to match the corrective to the mechanism," McGill says.
6. You Have Sore Feet
Chiropractor Dr. Jonathon Nowakowski tells Romper that a simple indicator that you have bad posture is sore feet. "Our bodies are not designed to have pain, it is a product of how we use and abuse this vessel that causes premature deterioration," he says.
7. You Experience General Discomfort
Nowakowski also says general discomfort can predict future back issues. In order to determine if you are at risk of issues down the road, he recommends examining your posture.
"Stand in front of a full length mirror in your underwear with your loved one to stand guard so that you can't fall and hurt yourself," he says. "Close your eyes for a few seconds — less than 5 — and take a good hard look," If you notice anything unusual — uneven shoulders or a slight twist in the upper body — it's best to call a doctor.
8. You Have A Decreased Range Of Motion On One Side
According to Nowakowski, when "one side has decreased range of motion" and extra pain, your back could be at risk. At first this may only present itself as a minor problem, but it can lead to issues over time.
9. You Have Increased Rounding In The Mid-Back
Dr. Anna-Christina Bevelaqua, an assistant professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, tells Romper that structural changes to your back indicate issues down the line. One of these structural changes appear as an increased rounding of the (thoracic spine) mid back (kyphosis). In contrast, Bevelaqua says that correct posture "is the position in which minimal stress is applied to each joint."
"Typically people develop poor posture out of habit when standing or sitting for long periods" Bevelaqua says. "This is often related to muscle imbalances, tightness, and muscle weakness. Maintenance of correct posture requires muscles that are strong and flexible."
10. You Have Increased Or Decreased Curvature In The Low Back
Bevelaqua says an increased or decreased curvature in the low back means your lower back arches too much or is too flat, and could lead to problems. Thankfully, Bevelaqua says, "the majority of postural issues are relatively easy to correct with posture education, muscle strengthening, and stretching."
11. Your Shoulders Aren't Symmetrical
Asymmetry at shoulder or hips, meaning when one hip or shoulder is higher than the other, is another indicator of bad posture, according to Bevelaqua. But with help from a chiropractor, you should be able to work through the issues.