Karen O'Keefe OTR/L
Posture Related Diseases and How to Avoid Them
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Postural related disorders can be debilitating to so many people. Unfortunately, most do not know that their poor posture is to blame for their aches and pains.
The pain and injuries from bad posture can be found anywhere in the body, from head to toe.
Posture actually relates to any part of our body, even though most of us associate posture with our neck and back. The definition of posture is, the carriage of the body as a whole, the attitude of the body, or the position of the limbs (the arms and legs).
Unfortunately, poor, sustained posture is frequently found in jobs requiring use of a computer, whether at a sitting or standing desk. With technology careers on the rise, we are also seeing an increase in injuries from poor, prolonged posture.
Starting from the head and working down to our feet, here are some of the most common injuries from bad posture.
Head and Neck
Did you know that headaches can be caused by poor posture? One type of headache is known as a cervicogenic headache.
Cervicogenic headaches are characterized by:
Pain in a rams horn distribution, from the base of the skull to the forehead or eye.
Symptoms are typically on one side.
Easily aggravated with head or neck movements.
Evidence shows that these headaches are provoked by sustained postures, specifically the forward head posture.¹
The most common positional culprit of these headaches is: forward head posture, an increase in thoracic spine kyphosis, and flattening of the lumbar spine.
Forward head posture is what it sounds like and is commonly found in people with desk and computer jobs. As we get tired of sitting or as we move our head forward to better see our screen, our head actually becomes heavier and heavier due to the longer lever arm.
A head typically weighs around 10 pounds. A good rule of thumb is to add 10 pounds of weight for every inch of forward head posture.
The muscles of the neck also tighten, joints are compressed, and the shoulders and mid back are also rounded forwards.²
FHP posture not only causes headaches, but it also causes other injuries.
The temporomandibular joint, also known as TMJ or the jaw, is a very common area of the body that can develop injuries from bad posture.
TMJ pain, also called temporomandibular dysfunction, or TMD, is considered a postural related disorder.
TMD is characterized by:
Pain in one or both sides of the jaw
Popping or clicking of the jaw
Muscle tightness in the head and face
Chronic clenching of the jaw
How can bad posture cause TMD?
When you sit or stand in a slouched position, meaning your mid-back rounds, your shoulders rotate forwards, and your head goes forward head posture (described earlier), you are actually putting more stress and strain on your jaw.
As your head is more forward in relation to your body, the muscles at the back of your head and neck counter the weight of your head.
At the same time, the muscles on the front of the throat are stretched and become weaker. This makes the muscles that keep your jaw closed work even harder to keep your mouth closed as gravity and the pulling stretched throat muscles are trying to open your mouth.³
Try it out right now. Sit up straight. Now stick your chin forwards, bringing your ears past your shoulders. Can you feel the increased pressure in your jaw?
We have seen how forward head posture can lead to pain and injury, but what about bad posture in other parts of the body?
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic outlet syndrome, TOS, is one of many injuries from bad posture that can occur in the shoulders and mid-back. There are several reasons why someone may develop TOS.
For now we will focus on faulty posture as the cause of TOS.
TOS is characterized by:
Pain in the either shoulder or down the arm
Numbness and tingling into either hand
Weakness of arms or hands
TOS can be caused by faulty, prolonged postures, especially when working at a computer. As described earlier, prolonged sitting can result in the worker sitting in a slouched, rounded position.
This causes an increase in thoracic spine kyphosis, or a rounding of the mid-back. As the mid-back rounds, the shoulders will also rotate forwards.
These two positions can actually cause narrowing of the space around the collar bone and the front of the shoulder, meaning there is tightening and compression on neurovascular structures that pass through these areas.
Specifically, there is tightening of the scalene muscles and the pectoralis muscles.
Someone with a desk job can avoid headaches, TMD, and TOS through:
Education on posture
An ergonomic assessment
Appropriate exercises to address strengthening and stretching of the correct muscle groups.³
Besides head, neck, and mid-back pain, one can also experience lower body pain and injuries from bad posture.
Low back pain
One of the most common causes of low back pain is bad posture.
Low back pain can present in many different ways:
Pain actually on one or both sides of the low back
Pain into the glutes
Sacrum or tailbone pain
As we sit with a rounded back, or slouched position we take our low back out of its normal, lordotic curve, causing an increase in stretch and stress to all of the soft tissues and joints of the low back.
This rounded, slouched position also stops us from properly using our abdominal muscles for core stability and increases the tightness of our hip flexors.
Our hip flexors actually attach on to the front of our spine. More tightness here equals more pulling and pain of the back.
Coupled with an overall decrease in movement during the day, it's no question why someone with poor posture can experience low back pain
Achilles tendon pain
Yes, you read that right, the achilles tendon, the bottom of your calf can even sustain an injury from bad posture.
Achilles tendon pain is characterized by:
Pain at the bottom of your calf or at the attachment of the tendon onto your heel.
Stiffness when getting up to walk after sitting for a while.
Tenderness to touch around the area.
Even weakness of your calf.
How can poor posture cause achilles tendon pain?
If you are sitting with poor posture by leaning forwards to read the screen, you are most likely bending your knees more and bringing your feet underneath your chair.
As you bring your feet underneath your chair, what do your feet do? You come up onto your toes, lifting your heels, constantly working your achilles tendon.
Try it out right now. Lean onto your elbows and forearms, bringing your head closer to the screen, what do your feet do?
Or, if you have poor ergonomics at your workstation, your feet may not be touching the ground. In order to contact the ground, you may be constantly pointing your toes, contacting your calves and achilles tendon in order to reach the floor.
Clearly, poor, sustained posture has the ability to affect multiple parts of our body. You may benefit from having someone assess your posture and ergonomics to help you avoid injuries from bad posture, or to help you recover from any current pain or injury.
http://www.pthomegroup.com/sites/default/files/my%20liberary/Colby%20Lynn%20Allen%20Kisner%20Carolyn%20Therapeutic%20exercise%20Foundations%20and%20techniques%20F%20A%20Davis%202012.pdf Pages 396, 421
Karen O’Keefe, OTR/L has combined her passion for Hand Therapy with the rewards Ergonomics can bring to her clients over the past 32 years. Co-founder of Exeter Therapy Associates and now Access Sports Medicine, she has specialized in Ergonomics in the workplace, along with musculoskeletal and neurological injuries.
Karen is equally passionate about hiking, biking and cooking. She lives with her husband in Kittery, Maine.