If you've been working from home over the last year, there’s a good chance your posture has suffered. “External demands continue to make their way into our personal lives and it's taking a toll on our physical bodies,” says Amir Vokshoor, MD, Spinal Neurosurgeon and Chief of Spine at St. John’s Hospital, Santa Monica, CA. Good posture is harder than ever to maintain due to several factors including poor at-home work station set-up and excessive periods of time on our devices which can lead to chronic forward head posture aka text neck and tech neck, he explains. Hence why posture correctors—those funny looking back braces all over social media—are having their moment. So do they work? We take a deep dive into these devices, ahead.
What Are Posture Correctors?
According to Bohdanna Zazulak, DPT, a physical therapist with Yale Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, posture correctors, aka postural correctors, are braces, restrictive clothing and gadgets that help you improve your awareness of your posture. While they have been around forever, Dr. Zazulak explains that they have evolved over the last 30 years from the simple and not-so-sophisticated straps and braces they once were to something fit for an Instagram influencer. “Now posture correctors include magnets, gyroscopes, electronics, and even cannabis,” she says. “Posture correctors seem to be the latest buzz. Even my sister (a school psychologist) called me to ask if she should buy one, since she feels her posture is deteriorating throughout her long hours interacting with small children and sitting at her computer.”
What Is Good Posture, Anyway?
Before exploring posture correctors, it's essential to understand what good posture is in the first place and how to improve it naturally.
“From a side view, your neck should be curved inward, your mid back curved outward, and your lower back curved inward for optimal core alignment,” Dr. Zazulak. “Slouching not only exaggerates the rounding of your mid back, but also deviates the natural curves in your neck and back.”
When these natural curves are altered, this puts pressure on the structures of your spine and contributes to back pain—one of the leading causes of disability around the world. “Poor posture not only creates angry backs and necks, but also painful shoulders, hands, and knees, as well as compromised circulation and chronic fatigue,” she explains.
“The most general way to conceptualize good posture though is as the position—sitting or standing—which most evenly distributes the weight of the body such that no single region is under excessive load,” adds Thomas Tokarz, DO, Yale Medicine physiatrist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Yale School of Medicine Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation.
The best way to improve posture without a corrector is to cultivate body awareness through healthy diaphragmatic breathing and core training, Dr. Zazulak reveals. “Core alignment improves breathing, decreases pain and fatigue, and improves muscle health, circulation, digestion, concentration, body image, and postural muscles. The way you carry yourself influences your physiology, your emotions, and your attitude.”
Dr. Tokarz always recommends an “active approach” to posture correction, “involving postural education, self-cueing to correct posture throughout the day, and focused neck and shoulder blade exercises.” However, “some patients will from time to time ask about posture correctors,” he admits.
How Do Posture Correctors Work?
Enter postural correctors, which may help you achieve good or improved posture. Chris Moriarty, DO, Assistant Professor Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, explains that the idea behind them is that they passively restrain the scapulae into retraction, preventing a protracted scapular position, aka rounded shoulder posture. “As scapular protraction occurs simultaneously (and is synergistic) with a forward head posture and slumped flexion posture of the spine that characterizes what is commonly understood as “poor posture”, the idea is that by preventing shoulder rounding with a posture corrector, overall posture will improve, which should in turn reduce associated pain,” he explains.
Dr. Zazulak explains that they work in different ways depending on style. “The original non-tech styles provide a physical restriction to slouching in the form of a brace, bra, or tee-shirt that restrict your body’s motion in your neck, shoulders, and/or back when you start to slouch,” she says. Some feature newer technology, like vibrations to remind you to sit up straight and smartphone apps to track your progress.
- May Help Improve Posture: Dr. Moriarty says one theoretical benefit of wearing posture correctors is that they might help improve posture by providing “proprioceptive feedback to wearers found to have poor ability to detect scapular position during clinical examination,” he explains. “This was thought to be a major mechanism of improvement of forward shoulder posture in Cole et al.’s 2013 study investigating the use of a postural corrector in overhead athletes.” Of note, while the study did find that forward shoulder posture was slightly improved while wearing the corrector, forward head posture was not.
- They Can Help Improve Postural Awareness: Furthermore, they might help improve your awareness when it comes to bad posture, Dr. Zazulak points out. “Most people slip back on the evolutionary timeline throughout their day as they stare at their screens,” she says. Wearing a corrector can serve as that much-needed reminder to sit up straight.
- Core Muscle Weakness: While postural correctors provide feedback when part of your spine deviates from your neutral spine position of three natural curves, they do not target the entire back, Dr. Zazulak says “For example, if you have a sensor that buzzes when your upper back slumps, you may end up compensating and slumping in your lower back.”
- Lack of Scientific Evidence Supporting Their Effectiveness: She also points out that the evidence to support the effectiveness of postural correctors is soft with limited poorly designed research in controlled settings, for example, not real-world situations and potentially biased when funded by the manufacturer. “Further research is necessary to confirm their validity,” she says.
- They Aren’t Very Comfortable: Dr. Zazulak reveals that many people find posture correctors to be uncomfortable. “Most of my patients don’t like them. They find them too restrictive, difficult to keep in place, irritating, find that they don’t end up using them very long.
- Could Promote Further Pain: According to Dr. Tokarz, prolonged passive stretching of the pectoralis major and minor muscles could potentially result in development of myofascial pain. “Additionally, prolonged stretch of the pectoralis minor could itself contribute to compression of compression of the distal (subclavian) portion of the brachial plexus,” he says.
What Is the Right Way to Use a Posture Corrector?
While posture correctors can be helpful, they are not a long-term solution. “Posture correctors should only be used short-term to help cultivate awareness of healthy posture, but not for extended periods which results in core muscle weakness,” says Dr. Zazulak. She suggests wearing them no longer than one to two hours per day.
Additionally, Dr. Tokarz points out that they should be a supplementary posture correcting tool. “Active management should consist at a minimum of periodic posture correction throughout the day while sitting and a home exercise program incorporating scapular retraction and craniocervical flexion exercises. Such a program should be performed several times throughout the day,” he says.
People with a previous diagnosis of congenital or acquired spinal abnormalities, cervical radiculopathy, brachial plexopathy, or upper extremity nerve entrapment, “with whom any potential benefit of passively maintaining a retracted scapular posture would be likely outweighed by the possibility of provoking/flaring neurogenic pain symptoms, “ should avoid using a posture corrector, says Dr. Moriarty.
What to Look for in a Posture Corrector
In selecting a posture corrector, Dr. Vokshoor suggests considering the following factors:
- Effectiveness: First off, you need to find a posture corrector that works. “Posture is very individualized and finding something that is versatile and applies to many different types of spines is always a little bit of a challenge,” Dr. Vokshoor says. “The areas of posture that are most important are the neck, cervical thoracic junction and the lower back. The area of the neck and cervical thoracic junction is one most important areas to get right as far as posture is concerned.”
- Comfort and Fit: Comfort is key when it comes to a posture corrector, Dr. Vokshoor points out. “In my years of treating patients, I’ve found that no matter how effective something is, if it’s too uncomfortable, patients will struggle to wear it, so the efficacy factor becomes irrelevant,” he explains. Look for braces that are softer, “since they tend to keep the muscles activated and prevent atrophy,” and flexible, “because you want the brace to allow you to keep your muscles activated,” he suggests. “A soft and flexible brace is the best choice and safer for the spine.” If you end up with a stiff and rigid posture corrector, it can be uncomfortable and make the muscles in the spine atrophy become lazy. “The only caveat to this recommendation is in case of spinal instability,” he points out. “The rules are reversed in case of spinal hypermobility and/or in cases of severe trauma or fracture healing. It’s important to be under the care of an expert health care provider when contemplating these mechanisms.”
- Ease of Use: Finally, look for one that is easy to use. “I like posture supports that are easily self-adjusting so that my patients don’t have to rely on having another person around to help them put it on, take it off, and adjust the tension,” Dr. Vokshoor reveals. “It’s also advantageous when it’s something that can be worn under or over clothes.”
The Best Posture Correctors to Try
Best Overall: FY Posture Corrector
This discreet posture corrector is affordable, simple to use, easily adjustable, and most importantly, comfortable. It is also made of breathable and chafe-resistant latex-free material, and is thin enough to hide underneath whisper thin shirts or blouses. It fits chest sizes 25" – 50".
Best Budget: Truweo Posture Corrector
If you are want to check out a posture corrector but prefer spending as little as possible, the Truweo Posture Corrector is a highly-rated, user friendly unisex brace. Made out of breathable fabric, it is easily adjustable to fit chest sizes 25" – 50".
Smartest: Upright GO
If you simply need a reminder to sit up straight, the Upright GO is the smartest gadget in the industry. As Dr. Zazulak mentioned, it is one of those rechargeable wearable devices you simply stick to the center of your back. When you slouch, it will give you a vibration to remind you to straighten up. And, with the app, you can track how much time you spend slouching every day and even monitor your improvement.
Best Bra: Leonisa Perfect Everyday Posture Corrector Underwire Bra
Bras can often be the source of discomfort and even encourage slumping. This bra from Leonisa offers chest and back support simultaneously with both an underwire cup and crisscross support panels and straps in the back, helping you pull your shoulders back into perfect posture position.
Cole AK, McGrath ML, Harrington SE, Padua DA, Rucinski TJ, Prentice WE. Scapular bracing and alteration of posture and muscle activity in overhead athletes with poor posture. J Athl Train. 2013;48(1):12-24.