At this point, you're probably no stranger to working from home and the irritating neck and back pain that can come with it. The culprit for those aches? Poor posture. If this sounds all too familiar, you're not alone — a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that Twitter complaints about low back pain soared by 84% in November 2020 compared to November 2019.
Luckily, practicing good posture — stacking your spine and keeping your head held high — can help you avoid some of that discomfort. Even better? There's plenty of benefits of good posture beyond just avoiding WFH pain. Below, spinal experts explain what you stand to gain from sitting up straight.
Helps Your Muscles Function Well
Good posture sets your muscles (and entire body, for that matter) up for success, according to Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP, a chiropractor at Root Cause Medical Clinics. Your muscles are anchored to bones at each end, so their ability to function properly depends on those bones being in the correct position in the first place, she explains. When your bones are out of alignment — like when your head juts forward to look down at your laptop, rather than stacking in line with the rest of your spine — they likewise tug your muscles out of place. The result? Overly lengthened or uncomfortably shortened muscles, which can lead to that dreaded WFH back or neck pain.
But when your bones are in alignment, your muscles can move like they were meant to. This allows you to go about your day more easily and comfortably than you might otherwise and set the foundation to build muscle strength, mobility, and more.
Prevents Chronic Pain
If neck and back pain are constant companions these days, that's likely thanks to slumping at your desk for hours on end. That's because when you hunch, your muscles are pulled into abnormal positions, says Oluseun Olufade, MD, a sports medicine doctor who specializes in spinal care. The muscles on the backside of your body get stretched out from slouching forward, which makes them grow weak. And the muscles on the front side of your body, like your chest and hip flexors, grow unnaturally short and tight from staying frozen in the sitting position.
The best way to combat those WFH aches and pains is to sit up straight, says Olufade. That way, your muscles are in the optimum position to support your spine and head without irritation.
Having good circulation is important to ensure that your body gets the oxygen and other nutrients it needs to function properly. One way to optimize your blood flow? By sitting up straight, says Petersen. "Good posture provides easy circulation to all your tissues and organs, allowing nutrients to be delivered efficiently," she tells Byrdie. "Poor posture compromises circulation."
Think of your body like a hose: If there's a kink in one spot, the water stops up. But once that kink is released, it can flow again.
Increases Lung Capacity
Imagine that hose analogy again, but this time apply it to your lungs. When you're slouching, your lungs don't always have space to inflate fully, says Olufade. But when you're sitting up straight, that reservoir can fill.
Supports Energy Levels
Better circulation and increased lung capacity mean that your body gets the oxygen it needs to function its best, say Petersen and Olufade. And a well-nourished body supports good energy levels throughout the day, adds Petersen. "Good posture allows for better oxygenation, while poor posture compromises breathing," she tells Byrdie. "A hunched position literally reduces the amount of oxygen you can inhale, which can lead to fatigue." Translation: Perking up your posture could likewise perk up your energy.
Boosts Brain Health
The benefits of circulation don't stop there — that blood flow and the nutrients that come with it are also great for your brain, says Petersen. It can help you think clearly, boost your mood, and support overall brain health. Having good posture is also often a byproduct of regular exercise, which strengthens your muscles so they can support good posture and similarly benefits your noggin, she explains.
Promotes Organ Function
Your brain communicates with all your organs via your nervous system, says Petersen. Your nerves travel from your brain down your spine and out to your organs, so it helps when that spinal pathway is in alignment. "Your organs function only as well as they are in good communication with your brain, neurologically speaking," she tells Byrdie. "Good posture allows for a strong and balanced communication, thereby leading to better organ function. Poor posture compromises that ability."
Can Prevent Pain From Spinal Conditions
Some conditions cause irregular curvature of the spine, like scoliosis and kyphosis, says Olufade. Sometimes these conditions are mild and don't require treatment. If that's the case, he says that practicing good posture can help keep the muscles around your spine strong and flexible, which may decrease the risk of these conditions becoming painful in the future.
Back pain isn't the only discomfort you can experience from hunching over your screen. Olufade says bad posture can also contribute to workstation-related injuries like carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel syndrome, elbow tendonitis, and shoulder impingement. Luckily, straightening out your stance can help with that, too. "Proper posture puts less stress on the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, and therefore you’re less likely to get hurt or have pain in these areas," he says.
Reduces Joint Wear and Tear
Depending on the activity, Olufade says poor posture can put unnecessary force on your joints, like how your wrists can start to hurt if they're constantly bent over your keyboard. On the other hand, good posture can keep your joints in alignment and minimize the risk of that excess pressure.