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Easing Back Pain with Good Posture

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This Health Alert is intended for readers interested in learning about the prevention, diagnosis and management of back pain.

In a perpetual slouch? Poor posture can lead to back pain, or worse! Follow these simple posture tips for back pain relief!

Contrary to popular belief, standing at attention -- with head and shoulders rigidly pulled back and lower back excessively arched -- is not correct posture and can be hard on the back. Good posture allows the body to follow the natural S-shaped curve of the spine. As simple as that sounds, however, poor habits, injury and even ill-fitting shoes can contribute to improper spinal alignment. Poor posture can strain muscles and ligaments and increase the risk of compressed nerves – all leading to back pain!

The easiest way to evaluate your posture is to stand sideways in front of a mirror when you are not wearing any bulky clothing. Ideally, it should be possible to visualize a straight line running through the front of your earlobe, the front of your shoulder, the center of your hip, just behind your kneecap, and just in front of your ankle bone. Your chin should be parallel to the floor, not thrust outward. To check your posture while sitting, sit in an armless chair with your side to a mirror. You should be able to visualize a line running through the same points of your upper body down to the center of your hip.

Perpetual slouching with shoulders rolled forward causes kyphosis (commonly called dowager's hump, humpback, or hunchback). Mild kyphosis and lordosis (swayback) usually can be corrected through a program of exercise, along with weight loss for overweight people with lordosis. More severe cases may require surgical correction.

Posture varies with age. As people get older and lose height because of disc changes, the curve in the lumbar region of the back tends to straighten, leading to a slight stoop, which is normal. In addition, the curve in the thoracic region tends to become accentuated with age.

Follow these 6 simple tips to improve your posture and soothe your back pain:

  • Back pain tip #1: At the desk, choose a straight-backed chair, and sit with your shoulders against the chair back, your chest lifted, your arms in the armrests and your upper back straight.


  • Back pain tip #2: When sitting, your feet should comfortably touch the floor, with your knees slightly above your hips. You may need to place a footstool or thick book underneath your feet.


  • Back pain tip #3: An ideal chair should include armrests to support the weight of your arms and reduce the pressure on your back.


  • Back pain tip #4: When sitting, it is important to get up and move around every half hour or so.


  • Back pain tip #5: When driving, adjust your seat position so that you can comfortably reach the steering wheel, brakes and accelerator. Frequently shifting your hand position on the steering wheel will minimize stress on the muscles in the upper back and neck.


  • Back pain tip #6: When in bed, lying on one side with knees bent and a pillow between them helps to maintain the natural curves of the spine. Place a pillow behind your knees when sleeping on your back and under your abdomen if sleeping on your stomach.

Posted in Back Pain on July 25, 2006
Reviewed June 2011

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

To easily straighten your back:

Stand or sit on a stool (or the edge of an armless chair). Put a cane or broom handle behind back and losely hold inside of elbows. Hold head up with chin pulled in. Raise shoulders and rotate back, then let them fall to comfortable rest. If standing, separate feet to shoulder width and flex knees a bit.

Posted by: lastcaul | August 8, 2006 7:38 PM

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