Most people experience back pain and at some point in their lives, and the causes of that pain can vary.
However, experts in the medical community say that back pain may be directly related to how you're sitting right now.
"I worked in physical therapy for 17 years, and we saw a lot of people with cervical injuries and back injuries from poor posture," says Jane Bogordos, a physiologist and fitness supervisor at Omni at Schererville.
Good posture is the maintenance of proper spinal alignment, with without that proper alignment, people are much more susceptible to injury, says June Faelnar, a doctor of physical therapy from Advocate South Suburban Hospital's therapy department.
"Improper alignment and poor posture leads to many common complaints such as neck and lower back pain," he says. "Alignment issues, not just traumatic injury, is a very common cause of spinal disc injuries as well."
Poor posture can also affect a person's breathing, Faelnar says.
"Without proper posture - shoulders back, chin down, chest out - it can be hard to draw deep breaths because of constriction caused by slumping forward," he says. "This forward tilt, caused by poor posture, can negatively affect balance, leading to injury-causing stumbles and falls."
Those who work desk jobs are especially susceptible to poor posture, Bogordos says.
"If you're in a forward position, your head is forward and there's a lot of extra stress and strain on your muscles," she says. "If you then do something that is physical or you turn the wrong way, your muscles are already weak and stressed, so it puts you at more risk for injury because your base of support isn't there anymore."
One of the most basic, but overlooked facts about good posture is that it helps people project an air of confidence, says Nancy Trimboli, a doctor of chiropractic at Trimboli Chiropractic in Munster and Cedar Lake.
“Posture is much more than sitting up straight,” she says. “Posture is a reflection of your mood and improving your posture can change your mood.”
Your posture now can also have life-long impacts.
“Recent research from the journal of American Geriatric Society shows that the more forward our head is, the more health problems we will have,” Trimboli says. “Your need for assisted living can be predicted by how far forward your head is compared to your hips.”
It's never too late to have a healthy posture, however. Here are some tips to help straighten your back and improve your overall health.
Watch workplace ergonomics
Pay attention to how your work space is set up, Faelnar says, as well as how you interact with your work environment.
"Chairs and desks need to be at the right height, with chair armrests properly positioned," he says. "This is particularly important for those who sit for an extended time or do a lot of typing and mouse work."
Bogordos suggests this trick for having better posture when sitting at a computer - try rolling up a dish towel and placing it behind your lower spine, Bogordos says.
Give yourself a break
Try not to sit too much, and if you sit a lot at work or at home, get up every 30 minutes to walk around and give yourself a break, Faelnar says.
Give your desk chair a break as well by using an exercise ball instead, Bogordos says.
"In order for you not to fall off it, you have to sit up straight," she says. "It helps you work on your core muscles and sit up straight."
Make posture checks
When in a chair, sit up straight and pull your shoulders back. Regularly check your posture as a recurring part of your day, Faelnar says.
Every 20 minutes, reach both hands up to the ceiling and then relax your arms, Bogordos says.
"When you do that, you put your spine in the proper position," she says.
Trimboli suggests keeping your shoulders over your hips and your ears over your shoulders – allowing your muscles to perform their jobs properly and stay relaxed. “This will reduce pain and stress felt in the neck and upper and lower back,” she says.
Investigate helpful activities
Yoga and pilates are low-impact exercises that focus on proper spinal alignment, body mechanics and core strength - and all help maintain proper posture, Faelnar says.
"There are many different flavors of yoga and pilates, so do some research and find something that works for you," he says.
Trimboli says over the years, people tire and pick up posture habits – yet gravity never tires.
“You must fight it,” she says. “Yoga, tai chi, dance, martial arts are all forms of exercise that improve not only posture, but state of mind – which in turn improves our posture,” she says.
Trimboli also suggests looking into correcting underlying structural problems through body work like chiropractic or massage.
“Previous injuries, days ago or decades ago, can create misalignments in the building blocks of your spine,” she says. “Personally, I see tremendous changes in our patients related to better posture – more energy and greater sense of well-being, besides looking more attractive and confident.”
Try these other exercises
Most exercises for the core will help people maintain good posture, Faelnar says.
"The muscles that help keep you straight and upright are in the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks, and these make up the bulk of our core," he says.
Advanced exercises like planks and plank variations are great for the core, while simple exercises can help, too, he says.
"Sitting or standing up straight and pulling your shoulders back, trying to crush an imaginary can between your shoulder blades is an easy and safe way to build some muscles to help with posture," he says.
Exercise bands also can be beneficial to those who are good posture challenged, Bogordos says.
"Get one of the rubber bands that have the handles on them, hook them onto something sturdy like a door knob and pull your arms toward you," she says. "Any type of pulling motion strengthens the upper back."
If you do a lot of weight-bearing exercises such as lifting weights, make sure you don't overemphasize the front of the body, Faelnar says.
"Muscle imbalance can lead to structural misalignment and bad posture," he says.