What Causes Bad Posture

Most people attribute, at least to some degree, their neck or back pain to poor posture.

Good posture is a form of fitness in which the muscles of the body support the skeleton in an alignment that is stable and efficient. Good posture is present both in stillness and in movement.

Causes of Bad Posture

Unfortunately, numerous factors can get in the way of good posture. Bad posture can come about by things like the day to day effects of gravity on our bodies. Bad posture may also occur due to an injury, an illness, or because of genetics—issues that, for the most part, you can't control.

A combination of these factors is also quite common.

Consideration of the underlying factors that interfere with good posture may help guide you as you make lifestyle changes or seek medical or holistic treatment.


Injury and Muscle Guarding

Rear view of young man stretching in the morning

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After an injury, muscles can spasm as a way of protecting the vulnerable area. While muscle spasms can help keep your injuries stable and protect them from further injury, they also limit your movements and cause pain.

Prolonged muscle spasms lead to weakened muscles over time. The resulting imbalance between muscles that guard an injury and those still working normally may also lead to aberrations in body posture.

Sometimes treatment with massage and/or physical therapy can help bring muscles back to optimal functioning.


Muscle Tension and Muscle Weakness

Man holding his shoulder in pain

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When certain muscle groups are weak or tense, your posture can be affected. After a while, you can also develop pain.

Muscle weakness or tension can develop when you hold a prolonged position day after day or when you do routine tasks and chores in a way that places tension on your muscles or uses them unequally.

A 2018 study published in the March issue of Scoliosis Spinal Disorders points out that muscle tension, strength, and flexibility affect posture. Living an active lifestyle may help you avoid bad posture in the long run.


Daily Habits Can Lead to Bad Posture

Woman Cradling the phone between head and shoulders

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As you find ways to accommodate muscle spasm, weakness, tension, and/or imbalance between muscle groups, your body can abandon good posture.

In these situations, your body may be forced to use alternate, but less efficient, patterns of muscle contraction and stretch. Called compensation, the body can still achieve its movement aim, but with compromised alignment.


Your Use of Technology and Your Posture

Woman sitting at her desk texting

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Your use of technology—whether you sit at a computer all day, use a tablet or cell phone, or work with several devices at once—can slowly take your body out of alignment. If you text incessantly, you may develop text neck, which is a condition in which your neck is held in too much flexion, or forward bending, for too long. This may lead to pain.


Mental Attitude and Stress May Lead to Bad Posture

Woman looks stressed while reading a book.

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Do you stress easily or have stressful relationships? If so, watch your posture!

Stress may contribute to shallow breathing or overly-contracted muscles, which may compromise your body posture. Conversely, adjusting posture can also counteract stress,


Shoe Choice and The Way You Wear Them

Colorful high heels and jeans street style fashion

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Clothing, especially shoes, can affect posture. Heels throw your body weight forward, which can easily catapult you into misalignment.

And if you wear down either the outside or inside of the shoes faster—because of things like weight-bearing habits—imbalanced kinetic forces will likely be translated up your ankle, knee, hip, and low back. This may lead to pain or bad posture in any of these joints, as well as your lumbar spine.


Heredity and Genetics

Teenage girl at the doctor with back pain

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Sometimes it's just in the genes. For example, Scheuermann's disease is a condition in which adolescent boys develop a pronounced kyphosis in their thoracic spines. Of course, in cases such as these, it's best to work with your healthcare provider for treatment and management.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Czaprowski, D., Stoliński, Ł., Tyrakowski, M. et al. Non-structural misalignments of body posture in the sagittal planeScoliosis 13, 6 (2018) doi:10.1186/s13013-018-0151-5

  2. Czaprowski D, Stoliński, Ł, Tyrakowski M. et al. Non-structural misalignments of body posture in the sagittal planeScoliosis , 6 (2018). doi:10.1186/s13013-018-0151-5

  3. Nejati P, Lotfian S, Moezy A, Nejati M. The study of correlation between forward head posture and neck pain in Iranian office workers. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2015;28(2):295-303. doi:10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00352

  4. Nair S, Sagar M, Sollers J, Consedine N, Broadbent E. Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychol. 2015;34(6):632-41.doi:10.1037/hea0000146

  5. Silva AM, De siqueira GR, Da silva GA. Implications of high-heeled shoes on body posture of adolescents. Rev Paul Pediatr. 2013;31(2):265-71. doi:10.1590/s0103-05822013000200020

  6. Nemours. KidsHealth. Scheuermann's kyphosis. Reviewed January 2019.

Additional Reading

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.