How to improve posture: expert tips to help you stand tall and reduce back pain

It's easy to improve posture - and banish back pain - with just a few key changes

How to improve posture - expert tips
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re wondering how to improve your posture, chances are you’ve already started to notice some of the negative effects and niggles that come from neglecting our spine health.

Looking after the skeletal system is often at the back of our minds until it becomes an issue, but it pays to make it more of a priority. Bad posture can lead to issues with your musculoskeletal system, resulting in lower back pain, neck aches, hunched shoulders, and even jaw pain, headaches and migraines.

‘It’s important to maintain our spine’s natural ’S’ shaped curve, which is key for optimal spinal health,’ says Poonam Shah, senior osteopath at Medical Home Visit Marylebone. ‘Slouched posture is detrimental over time as this can cause muscular strain as well as compression of the diaphragm, which can lead to breathing issues and strain on joints.’

Adding insult to injury is the fact that modern life has been shown to exacerbate the problem. ‘Postural correction has always been a popular presentation in clinic as we are living in a generation of sedentary lifestyles, with increased usage of devices and screen time,’ Shah explains.

So how can we fix poor posture? After days, months and even years of bad habits, this isn’t going to happen overnight, but it’s nevertheless important to incorporate small steps into our everyday routine. For example, Shah’s approach combines osteopathic techniques with advice on lifestyle habits, best form of exercise, ergonomics and dietary recommendations.

If you’re suffering, an osteopath or chiropractor can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and help you understand why your posture might be dysfunctional. In the meantime, making the following adjustments can also help.

Avoid sitting for too long at a time

It’s widely accepted that too much sitting is bad for you - and it can be especially problematic if you find yourself working from home in the wake of coronavirus, thanks to increased workloads and the absence of a daily commute. 

‘Working from home has meant that patients haven't been able to take their regular breaks and get their daily steps in,’ says Shah. ‘If you’re sitting for a long time, simply getting up and moving around every 20-30 minutes can make a massive difference,’ she advises.

This is especially important if you spend a lot of time sat at a desk, as being in one position for more than 45 minutes can result in back pain and poor blood circulation. Shah’s advice? ‘An easy trick is to stand up every time you’re on the phone.’ A fitness watch that monitors your standing time, such as the Apple Watch, can also help.

Improve posture with exercise

Following the theme of moving more, incorporating specific strength, cardio and stretching exercises into your workout regime is also beneficial when it comes to fixing posture.

‘Try to incorporate a good balance of exercises throughout your week to help keep your muscles and joints working as they should - this will also relieve some of the discomfort you feel,’ says Owain Evans, chiropractor and member of the British Chiropractic Association.

If you’re already struggling with pain, consider low-impact forms of cardio such as swimming, walking and dancing, incorporating light weights to build strength. Pilates and yoga are ideal for stretching and strengthening too, whilst our best back workout will help build strength and improve posture. A good foam roller can also play a part.

Build good posture habits

Exercise on it’s own is not enough to improve posture and banish pain - it’s also necessary to review your daily lifestyle habits and make changes where necessary. Slouching on the sofa, lying twisted in bed, carrying heavy bags (particularly on one shoulder) and even wearing the wrong shoes can all contribute to poor posture and trigger back pain. So try to be aware of your posture throughout the day, and make adjustments as needed. You could also consider wearing a posture corrector to help you stay aware of your spine positioning.

Set up your workspace for posture success

It’s not just sitting for too long that can impact your posture - the way you sit plays a part, too. ‘Poor work spaces that aren’t designed for a full day’s work cause us to slouch forward, causing extra pressure on the upper back and spine,’ says Shah. 

This is especially important right now, given that for many of us ‘the office’ currently means the kitchen table or - even worse - the bed. ‘There has been a massive increase in patients booking in for appointments post-lockdown due to not having the right work station at home' Shah reveals. 'The biggest issue has been patients working on the couch, on their bed and on kitchen stools.’

So what can you do? One of Shah’s top tips is to invest in a laptop stand, so that the top third of your screen is at eye level. ‘If you find yourself looking down at your laptop, this can cause strain into the back of your neck, often leading to the development of ‘tech neck’ and a hunched appearance.'

A good chair with back support is also vital. ‘Without this, you are forced into leaning forward and exacerbating lower back pain,’ Shah says.