Back pain: Eight common posture mistakes – here’s how to fix them

Back pain is a widely reported complaint in the UK, with around one in three people getting it every year. It’s usually the lower back that’s affected. Back pain is commonly caused by poor posture. Correcting bad posture can seem like a daunting task, as Physiotherapist Nick Sinfield explained to the NHS: “Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become so used to sitting and standing in a particular way. But by making simple adjustments good posture will become second nature.”

The idea is to keep your body in perfect alignment

Nick Sinfield, physiotherapist

According to Sinfield, here are eight common posture mistakes people make along with tips to fix them:

Slouching in a chair

The strain brought on by this position may increase tension in the muscles, which may in turn cause pain, said Sinfield.

“Get into the habit of sitting correctly. It may not feel comfortable initially because your muscles have not been conditioned to support you in the correct position,” he advised.

Exercises to strengthen a person’s core and buttock muscles, and back extensions, will help correct a slouching posture, said Sinfield.

Exercises to correct a slumping posture:

  • Bridges
  • Back extensions
  • Plank

Sticking your bottom out

“If your bottom tends to stick out or you have a pronounced curve in your lower back, you may have hyperlordosis. This is an exaggerated inward curve of the lower back that creates a ‘Donald Duck’ posture, said Sinfield.

People with a sticking out bottom should try core and buttock strengthening exercises, hip flexor and thigh stretches, and making a conscious effort to correct their standing posture, he advised.

He added: “To help correct your standing posture, imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards.

“The idea is to keep your body in perfect alignment, maintaining the spine’s natural curvature, with your neck straight and shoulders parallel with the hips.

Standing with a flat back

“A flat back means your pelvis is tucked in and your lower back is straight instead of naturally curved, causing you to stoop forward. People with a flat back often find it difficult standing for long periods,” explained Sinfield.

A flat back also tends to make a person lean their neck and head forwards, which can cause neck and upper back strain, he said.

Exercises to strengthen the core, buttocks, neck and rear shoulder muscles, and back extensions, are recommended to help correct a flat back, noted Sinfield.

Exercises to correct a flat back:

  • Plank
  • Side-lying leg raises
  • Chest stretches
  • Seated rows in a gym, or pull-ups
  • Back extensions

Leaning on one leg

As Sinfield explained, many people lean on leg for comfort. Overtime, however, they may develop muscle imbalances around the pelvis area, which can cause muscular strain in the lower back and buttocks.

Other causes of uneven hips include carrying heavy backpacks on one shoulder, and parents carrying toddlers on one hip, he said.

To redress the balance, Sinfield advised people try to get into the habit of standing with their weight evenly distributed on both legs.

Exercises to strengthen your buttocks and core muscles will help correct uneven hips:

  • Plank
  • Side-lying leg raises
  • Bridges

Hunched back and ‘text neck’

Hunching over keyboard is usually a sign that a person has a tight chest and a weak upper back. Over time, this type of posture can contribute to developing a rounded upper back, which can cause shoulder and upper back stiffness, explained Sinfield.

“Upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises, chest stretches and neck posture drills are recommended to help correct a hunched back,” he said.

Exercises to correct a hunched back:

  • A person should gently lengthen their neck upwards as they tuck in their chin
  • Seated rows in a gym or pull-ups
  • Chest stretches

Poking chin posture

As Sinfield explained: “The poking chin posture can be caused by sitting too low, a screen set too high, a hunched back, or a combination of all three.”

How to correct a poking chin:

  • A person should gently lengthen their neck upwards as they tuck in their chin
  • Bring the shoulder blades down and back towards the spine
  • Pull in the lower tummy muscles to maintain a natural curve in the lower back
  • Adjust seating

Rounded shoulders

“Rounded shoulders are typically caused by poor posture habits, muscle imbalances and focusing too much on certain exercises, such as too much focus on chest strength while neglecting the upper back,” said Sinfield.

Exercises to strengthen the core, upper back and chest muscles will help correct rounded shoulders:

  • Plank
  • Bridges
  • Seated rows in a gym or pull-ups
  • Chest stretches

Cradling your phone

According to Sinfield: “Holding your phone handset between your ear and shoulder places strain on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders. The neck and shoulders are not designed to hold this position for any length of time.”

Over time, this posture can place strain on the muscles and other soft tissues, and lead to muscle imbalances between the left and right side of the neck, he explained.

“Try to get into the habit of holding the phone with your hand, or use a hands-free device,” he added.

Exercises for neck stiffness and pain:

  • Chest stretches
  • Neck stretches – gently lower the left ear towards the left shoulder; hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths, then repeat on opposite side
  • Neck rotations – a person should slowly turn their chin towards one shoulder; hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths, then repeat on opposite side.

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