May has been designated as an awareness month for several conditions and diseases, including arthritis and bad posture. In our clinical practice, we find that many patients are unaware of the connection between bad posture, arthritis, and other long-term musculoskeletal conditions. Slouching at your desk every day could be even worse for you than you think. Luckily, this is a treatable and preventable condition.

Here’s how bad posture affects your body and how you can correct it.

Posture and Arthritis

When you hunch forward or tilt your head down looking at your phone, you are straining the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. When bad posture occurs regularly, your body struggles to repair this strain. The effect is similar to what would happen if you worked out the same muscle group every day. You’d be sore, tired and those muscles wouldn’t be able to build strength.

Whenever our muscles become injured, even if the injuries are on a microscopic scale, the body initiates an immune response to heal the damage. The first stages of this immune response involve inflammation. In the short term, there’s nothing wrong with inflammation; it helps your body heal. When an inflammatory reaction repeatedly occurs or stays at a low level constantly, it can cause damage. Inflammation is one of the primary causes of osteoarthritis and joint degeneration. That’s right: your poor posture now could equal arthritis later. Of course, some people are more prone to arthritis due to genetics and other factors like diet, but bad posture is a contributing factor, and one that you can do something about.

In addition to long-term joint degeneration, bad posture can cause uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, and if a nerve gets pinched, even tingling or numbness. So how do you avoid this misery and the worse health consequences down the road? It’s not complicated, but changing habits can take some time and practice.

You can follow these three tips to improve your posture and fix the damage you already have.

1. Don’t Sit or Stand Still

When we sit or stand in place for too long, the muscles we are using to support that position become strained and can experience a loss of blood flow. This leads to stiffness and aches, and when it occurs frequently, damage. Many people think that a standing desk is a more back-friendly option, but that’s not necessarily the case. You may be less likely to slouch at a standing desk if it’s set up correctly, but standing in place all day can cause lower back, leg, and foot pain. If you are using a standing desk, make sure to wear supportive shoes and switch your positioning up by stepping back or to the side occasionally.

Sitting for longer than an hour at a time can be bad for your back and your overall health. Stand up at least once an hour. Even if you sit right back down again, the movement will help increase blood flow and reduce stiffness.

Fidgeting a bit can actually be good for you. The point is to keep your blood flowing and avoid putting strain on the same muscles for hours on end.

2. Create an Ergonomic Environment for Work and Play

One of the primary reasons for bad posture is an awkward desk situation. If you have to look down to see your screen or your chair doesn’t have lumbar support, it will be hard not to slouch forward as you work. Lifting your computer screen to eye level and adding a pillow or cushion to the lower back area of your chair can do wonders for your posture. A few inexpensive accessories like a wrist rest or ergonomic keyboard can help prevent carpal tunnel and tendinitis. For those at a standing desk, make sure you are standing on something soft and wearing supportive shoes. Your keyboard should be easy to reach without rolling your shoulders forward or overextending your elbows. Whether sitting or standing, your workstation should allow you to have your arms at a 90-degree angle while typing and your head and neck in a neutral position.

It’s not just your work environment you have to worry about, though. Nowadays, we spend a lot of time looking at screens off the clock too. The tendency to look down at our phones has increased neck pain problems. When your head and neck are in a neutral position, aligned between your shoulders, your head weighs about ten pounds. For every inch, you bend your head forward, the amount of weight on your spine doubles. That’s a lot of strain on both your spine and the muscles and ligaments around it.

Limiting screen time is beneficial to physical and mental health, and when you must look at a screen, don’t slouch to do it. Hold your phone in front of your face or prop it up on an eye-level surface. Position your television, so you don’t have to look up or down to see it, and try to support your back while you sit on your couch. Slouching for a few hours in the evening can cause the same problems as doing it all day at work. They might just take longer to show up.

3. See a Chiropractor

Chances are, if you are reading this article that you are aware of your posture problems and already suffering some of the consequences. You may feel that it’s difficult to get your shoulders to roll back, or your neck may be stiff and sore all the time. At Allstar Chiropractic, we provide spinal adjustment, corrective exercises, spinal decompression, and lifestyle coaching to help heal the damage caused by bad posture, and prevent it from recurring. In addition to providing in-office treatment at our Kentucky locations, our providers will also give you at-home exercises that will help you heal faster. Our state of the art treatments, like cold laser therapy, encourage healing in soft tissues, while we work to correct structural problems.

With proper treatment, you can correct your posture and avoid long-term consequences like arthritis.