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Can Bad Posture Cause Back Pain?

Can Bad Posture Cause Back Pain?

Most of us don’t think much about the importance of good posture as we spend hours sitting at the office and working with our head bent forward toward our laptop. Often, we take the health of our entire spine for granted until something goes wrong.

Poor posture puts stress on the spine and limits the flow of blood and healthy nutrients to soft tissues. Over time this can cause anatomical changes, which can lead to issues with muscles and joints, and ultimately back pain.

Spinal structure

Spinal anatomy is complex and is comprised of:

  • Bones
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons
  • Muscles
  • Nerves

The spine is designed to be strong enough to protect the highly delicate nerve roots, yet flexible enough to allow movement in all directions. For it to be in optimal health, bones must be strong, ligaments, tendons and muscles must be flexible, and highly sensitive nerves must be free of any pressure.

Poor Posture

You may not realize that you have poor posture, but your body is likely signaling to you that something isn’t right.

Back pain that is caused by poor posture typically presents with characteristic pain patterns, including:

  • Back pain that worsens at particular times during the day
  • Back pain that begins in your neck and slowly moves to your upper and lower back
  • Back pain that subsides when you change position
  • Sudden back pain that correlates with a new activity (i.e. new mattress, new job, etc.)

Consequences of Bad Posture Throughout the Spine

The more time you spend sitting, the more likely you are to suffer from neck, shoulder and back pain.

Lower Cervical Spine

The neck is most vulnerable to the effects of poor posture as it is right above the shoulders and suffers most when the head is tilted forward. Poor posture causes tightness of the scalene muscles, suboccipital muscles, subscapularis, and levator scapulae, resulting in pain and limited range of movement. If the alignment of the head and spine is not optimal, the neck is predisposed to injury and the degenerative effects of wear and tear over time.

Upper Back

Long-term poor posture diminishes muscular flexibility of the thoracic spine causing the upper back to suffer from muscular irritation and/or joint dysfunction from degeneration.

Long-term effects of poor posture can result in neck pain that radiates down to the shoulders and shoulder blades, which triggers painful points in the upper back muscles due to constant tension and limited range of motion.

Lower Back

Known as the lumbar spine, this part of the back bears most of the weight of the torso and is therefore susceptible to damage. Poor posture can lead to various changes in the lumbar spine, including:

  • Wear and tear– the majority of pain in this area is caused by muscle strain, which is common when the muscles are improperly balanced due to poor posture. Poor posture also leads to a lack of flexibility, which limits the blood flow to this area and therefore prevents the soft tissues from receiving an optimal supply of nutrients, consequently leading to irreversible damage.
  • Herniated discs- the two lowest intervertebral discs of the lumbar spine are affected by poor posture, causing lower back pain and even numbness that can radiate into the legs.

Sacral Region

The sacrum is the bone that makes up the back part of the pelvis. Shaped like a triangle, it connects the lower part of the body to the spine.

The tailbone (coccyx) is found at the bottom of the spine, and can also be a source of pain. Tailbone pain is more common in women than men. Although coccyx pain is typically triggered by trauma and injury, it can be worsened with prolonged sitting and any activity that puts pressure on this part of the spine, such as poor posture.


By working on your posture, you can avoid back pain and greatly reduce the risk of degenerative conditions. Proper posture corrects muscle imbalances that are often the source of back pain. There are countless exercises and stretches that can support and restore good posture, which the physical therapists in Boston at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation can teach you. These exercises can ease the pressure on your back and ultimately, relieve your back pain; so, give us a call today.