Bad posture, which often leads to neck and shoulder pain, are regrettably two very common health issues. The experience can be anywhere from mild discomfort to sharp pain.
This can limit daily activities and in general decrease quality of life.
But even if you are only experiencing mild discomfort right now, it could worsen over time. The sad truth about neck and shoulder pain is that a lot of people suffer from this directly or indirectly because of bad posture.
In other words, the problem is often reinforced or created by own actions. This is also true for back pain by the way.
With that being said, even though your own neglect of your body posture might be the cause for your aching neck and shoulders, you should not let that discourage you!
The purpose of this article, is to explain in simple terms how bad posture could be causing your neck and shoulder pain. Where to go from there.
To better understand what is going on within your body, let me very briefly explain a few things about your anatomy. This will make the general understanding of the affects of bad posture a whole lot easier.
Anatomically speaking, the upper back, neck and shoulders are made up of different groups of muscles and joints. They all more or less serve their own purpose. They also work together in supporting and holding the weight of your upper body including head and spine.
The muscles will contract, stretch and move together with joints, bones and tendons to keep the back upright. Having a healthy spine is an important factor for all these different muscles and joints to work well.
Looking at the spine from a side view, you will notice that it is not a straight line. This is something you might describe as a (very) vertically compressed S-shape. This is formed by the curves in the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper/middle back) and lumbar region (lower back).
This characteristic shape ensures a good distribution of the weight of your body and flexibility of movement.
Neck Pain and Poor Posture
Even though neck pain is perhaps not as common as back pain, it is still estimated by some experts that about 13% of the American adult population is experiencing it at any given time.
That is a lot of people with neck pain!
Obviously, people experience neck pain from a variety of reasons, but as also mentioned above bad posture probably has a lot of the blame.
Unfortunately, the many hours we spend every day looking at smart phones, sitting behind computer screens in a slouched position. Reading books etc. is often done with our head in an awkward forward tilting/leaning position. This exacerbates neck and back pain.
There is a lot of interesting things going on in front of us, so it is not hard to understand why we end up in this position.
But it puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on muscles responsible for flexion and extension of the neck, the upper back and your spine.
Spending many hours in this position will over time lead to neck and back problems. This includes tightening of some muscles in front of your body and lengthening of others in the back of your body, which leads to bad posture.
Not a lot of people think about it, but the way you sleep could also be causing or reinforcing your poor neck and head posture. Ultimately your head ends up in a constant forward protruding position, also known as forward head posture.
Now recall that I mentioned how an important factor for an overall healthy upper body is to maintain the right spinal curvature.
Well, with forward head posture the spine is literally being pulled forward which:
- disrupts the naturel spinal curvature
- decreases range of motion of muscles and joints especially the shoulders
- the weight of your body is distributed poorly
Actually, experts estimate that for every inch (2.5 cm) the head is moved forward from the neutral position a force of about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) is added.
If that sounds incredible to you, just think about the principle of the lever. In case you don’t remember it from teachings back in school, the principle essentially states that the farther away the force that is pushing down is the more the force is amplified.
Considering all that unnecessary strain on the muscles and the spine it is not that hard to imagine why you would end up with bad posture and a sore and painful neck.
Additionally, many years of sustaining that excess strain can lead to irreversible degeneration of spinal discs which is something you do not want!
Shoulder Pain And Poor Posture
The shoulder is an interesting and more complicated joint. It is held together by and functioning due to a number of muscles. They are located in the front of your upper body and the back of your upper body and your arm.
There are a lot of muscles at work here. Pain can also be caused by many different problems that each require a different solution.
However, since I am addressing bad posture and because slouching is so widespread, it is likely that your shoulder pain is directly or indirectly caused or at least can be partly attributed to poor posture (slouching).
If you are often maintaining a slouching / hunched-over posture it will over time lead to:
- tight muscles in the chest and front of the neck
- weak and elongated muscles in the back of the neck and upper back.
Due to this muscular imbalance shoulders typically round forwards in inwards putting the shoulders in a bad and awkward position.
This posture issue is known as rounded shoulders.
The shoulders now have less space to move freely putting you at risk for both pinching tendons and grinding bone against tendon or bone inside the rotator cuff.
Not only does that wear and tear at your bones and joints but it also creates inflammation and hurts!
If you are doing sports or weight training you are at risk of seriously injuring your shoulders, which in worst case could require a surgery to fix.
Speaking from personal experience, injuring your shoulder because of bad posture is something you want to avoid at all costs.
Also if it that means halting your weight training progression or even completely stopping heavy pressing or pushing movements for a while.
Shoulder Posture Also Affects Your Spine
The “shoulder muscles” helps supporting the spine. If the shoulders are in a constant forward rounding position you can be sure that it will affect the spine negatively.
Basically, what happens is that tight chest and neck muscles pulls the spine forwards.
Because muscles in the upper back like the neck (trapezius) and shoulder blade muscles (rhomboids) are elongated and weak, there is not sufficient counterforce and the spine is pulled forward and kept there creating more or less a constant slouching posture.
This is reinforced if the person also have a forward head posture.
This constant slouching is bad for you in so many ways including:
- There is evidence that it affects your emotions negatively
- it interferes with internal processes like digestion and breathing
- It creates a lot of muscle tension leading to soreness and pain
- Perhaps what people care most about, it looks really unattractive.
How To Fix Your Neck And Shoulder Pain Due To Bad Posture?
The obvious answer is that you need to fix the root problem which is your bad posture!
Use of mild pain medication could be ok, but if not followed by posture corrective measures the use is pointless and only creates another problem: pain medication dependency.
I like to say that in order to significantly improve your posture, you need to do these three things:
- Improve the ergonomics of your surroundings, especially the setup at your desk and if you drive a lot, your position behind the wheel.
- Improve “postural awareness” – become familiar with what good posture looks and feels like. Some people find it helpful to use different products that help for both forward head posture and rounded shoulders.
- Stretch short and tight muscles and strengthen long and weak muscles. I have written a small guide with a list of exercises to fix the common posture issues.
Being more mindful of your posture is the key in preventing slouching. That whole process obviously gets easier if your surroundings are “good posture friendly” and if you are actively working on reversing the effects your poor posture have had on you.
Don’t let bad posture restrict your ability to move around freely without pain. While it does take time and effort to improve your posture it is 100 % worth it and should be a high priority.
Start by being more mindful of your posture and your surroundings while in the position you spend most of the time in, e.g. sitting behind a desk.
Furthermore, you should do some exercises to strengthen and stretch your muscles. You can check out YouTube or you can follow the link above. Considering taking up yoga or Pilates is also not a bad idea.
Marcus runs the site Strengthery.com where he writes about weight training, weight loss, and other health-related topics.
After injuring both his shoulders and realizing that his posture sucked, he became obsessed with learning everything he could about how to improve and maintain good posture. Now he likes to share what he learned.