What Causes Bad Posture

Most people attribute, at least to some degree, their neck or back pain to poor posture. Not surprisingly, these folks often rush to try a host of possible fixes that may range from exercise, massage, and chiropractic, to yoga, Pilates, holistic therapies, and workstation redesign. A trip to the doctor's office is also included in the quest for good body posture—by some, at least—particularly if there's pain.

But many of these well-meaning, albeit scared people have only a vague understanding of what posture really is, what causes problems with it and what kinds of things may help them improve theirs.

Good Posture Defined

Good posture is a form of fitness in which the muscles of the body support the skeleton in an alignment that is stable as well as efficient. This state of being called good posture is present both in stillness and in movement.

Causes of Bad Posture

Unfortunately, numerous factors one may encounter in life can get in the way of good posture. For more people than not, bad posture comes about by the day to day effect of gravity as it acts on our structure. Bad posture may be due to an injury, a disease or because of genetics—the things that for the most part, you can't control. A combination of these factors is also quite common.

Determining the underlying factors to less than ideal posture may help guide you when choosing medical or holistic treatment, or when making lifestyle changes. To that end, here are 7 possible reasons why you may have bad posture. Consult with your licensed health provider for a deeper dive into any of these.


Injury and Muscle Guarding

Rear view of young man stretching in the morning

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After an injury, nearby muscles tend to go into spasm as a way of protecting the vulnerable area. While muscle spasms can limit your movements and cause pain, they also help keep your injured part stable, as well as protected from further injury risk.

The problem is, muscles that stay in spasm tend to weaken over time. The resulting imbalance between muscles that guard an injury and those still working normally may lead to aberrations in body posture.

Muscles in spasm will likely work a diminished way, at least for a while after an injury, and usually, treatment in the form of massage and/or physical therapy will be needed to bring them back to optimal functioning.


Muscle Tension and Muscle Weakness

Man holding his shoulder in pain

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Similar to when you're injured, when the body has areas that are extra weak and/or strong, most likely, it will not be held upright against gravity in the most effective manner. This condition generally leads to poor posture and pain.

Excessive muscle strength and weakness may be brought about by a number of things, including the way you work out and the way you perform your routine tasks and chores.

A 2018 study published in the March issue of Scoliosis Spinal Disorders points out that not only does muscle tension, strength and flexibility matter to the condition of your posture, but the degree to which muscles are used and exercise, as well.  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

Elizabeth Young / Getty Images

Your body will likely abandon good posture and alignment in order to find ways to accommodate muscle spasm, weakness, tension and/or imbalance between muscle groups.

This is because, in these cases, the body is 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 comprised alignment.

You might understand this process as a sort of detour. If you encounter an obstacle in the road while driving, you'd probably swerve to miss it but also to keep going towards your destination. The musculoskeletal system—in tandem with the nervous system—also develops detours to allow you to complete the intended movement even though some muscles and joints may not be contributing fully or working as part of the team.


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 you work with several devices at once, can quickly 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.

Marc Romanelli / Getty Images

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

Stress may lead to a decrease in full breathing as well as overly-contracted muscles, which in turn may compensate your ideal body posture.


Shoe Choice and The Way You Wear Them

Colorful high heels and jeans street style fashion

Christian Vierig / Getty Images

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 your usual 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 doctor for treatment and management.


Types of Posture Problems

Swayback posture compared to ideal posture.

undrey / Deposit Photos

While all the above may cause or lead to bad posture, for posture problems that are not medical or genetic in origin, four main types exist. These are the lordotic, kyphotic, flat and swayback types. Each type has the capacity to disrupt good posture.

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  3. 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

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