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Is Your Sitting Posture Hurting Your Shoulder Muscles?
Posture is extremely important to keeping the muscles of your neck, back, and shoulders healthy. However, it’s only human to slouch or to occasionally sit with bad posture. But if we let our posture get too lax, we can actually hurt or damage the muscles in these areas, leading to pain and discomfort.
In this article, we’ll talk all about how your posture may be causing you pain in your shoulders and give you some ideas on how to fix your posture, as well as relieve discomfort.
Pain Caused By Poor Posture
It’s no secret that poor posture can lead to pain and discomfort. This is because when your posture isn’t properly aligned, you overwork the muscles in your neck and back. In order to try to heal those muscles, your immune system may spur inflammation, which, over time, can lead to arthritis in nearby joints. While you may overlook occasional pain after sitting hunched over at your desk all day, it may be a sign of something more serious.
Sometimes, it may feel more comfortable to slouch in your chair while working long hours. It’s easy to overlook advice on good posture. However, if you continue to do this long term, you may end up with permanent joint damage. If you notice persistent pain in your shoulders after sitting with poor posture for a long period of time, you may have something called shoulder impingement.
What Is Shoulder Impingement?
Shoulder impingement is the painful pinching of your shoulder’s muscles against the surrounding bone caused by strained or repetitive shoulder movement.
The shoulder is made up of three different bones: the humerus, which is your upper arm bone, the clavicle, your collarbone, and the scapula, also known as the shoulder blade.
There are also two joints within your shoulder. The first is the acromioclavicular joint, located where the shoulder blade and the collarbone meet, and the second is the glenohumeral joint, where the ball of your upper arm meets the socket. Connecting all these bones together is the rotator cuff, which is made up of tendons from different muscles.
The rotator cuff is responsible for keeping your shoulder’s moving pieces attached and working smoothly. However, when you hunch, slouch, or round your shoulders, the space that the tendons of your rotator cuff run through narrows. Poor posture can lead to the tendon becoming pinched or rubbing against your shoulder’s natural padding, which is called the subacromial bursa. Over time, things like slouching or hunching contribute to shoulder impingement syndrome.
Unfortunately, the shoulder is often overlooked when it comes to discussing pain due to poor posture. Many doctors default to addressing neck or back pain first. This is because the shoulder is such a complex joint, and pain in this area can often disguise itself as neck or back pain, as the muscles are all interconnected.
To determine if you have shoulder impingement syndrome, try this simple test. Outstretch your arm to the front and side, and determine if you feel discomfort or a pinching sensation at the front of your shoulder. If so, you may be developing or already have shoulder impingement syndrome.
How To Fix Your Posture
One of the first steps you can take to alleviate pain and stop further impingement is to fix your posture. This sounds simple, but it can be a little more difficult than just telling yourself to sit up straight.
Posture is defined as the way you hold your body. There are two main types of posture: dynamic and static. Dynamic posture is how you hold yourself when you’re moving, like when you’re running or walking. Static posture is how you hold yourself when you aren’t moving, like when you’re standing, sitting, or sleeping. It’s important to make sure you have both good dynamic posture and good static posture.
The key to good posture is the position of your spine. The spine has three natural curves, located at your neck, mid-back, and low-back. When your posture is correct, these curves should be maintained, but not increased. Your head should be above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulders should be over your hips.
Improving your posture isn’t as simple as it sounds. Often, we slouch or hunch into comfortable positions out of habit, especially when focusing on something else, such as work, eating, or our smartphones. Here are some tips to help you improve your posture naturally.
Any sort of exercise may help improve your posture, but certain types of exercises that focus on balance and alignment may be especially helpful. Types of exercise like yoga and tai chi focus on alignment, as well as body awareness. This can be extremely helpful and can serve as a reminder of what correct posture should feel like. Any type of exercise that strengthens your core is also great for posture.
Regular exercise also helps keep you at a healthy weight, which is very important for posture. Extra weight can weaken your abdominal muscles, cause problems for your pelvis and spine, and contribute to low back pain. All of these can contribute to poor posture.
Adjust Your Workspace
Many Americans, and people around the world, spend most of their day seated at a desk in front of a computer. It is important for your posture that you sit properly and that your desk is at the proper height. A workspace that contributes to good posture should include:
- A desk at a comfortable height. For most people, this is about elbow height. You want to be able to work at your desk while keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
- A chair with proper lumbar support, as well as padding for your hips and thighs. Your chair should have a backrest that supports the curve in your lower spine, and your hips and thighs should be parallel to the floor.
- The ability to touch your feet to the ground. If not possible, we recommend getting a footrest. Try not to cross your legs, rather keep your feet on the floor, with your ankles in front of your knees.
- A computer monitor or screen level with your eyes. The top of your screen should be at eye level when looking straight. If necessary, place your computer on top of books or another flat surface to raise it up. Looking down at an angle for too long can cause neck and shoulder strain.
Even if you have a workspace that allows you to sit with perfect posture, it’s still recommended that you get up and stretch your muscles every so often to relieve tension. If you can, switch positions often, and take brief walks around your home and office. This allows your muscles to take a break and can help relieve soreness.
This seems like an obvious tip, but it’s often the hardest one to remember. It’s important to stay mindful of your posture and remember to sit up straight. Oftentimes, we sink into bad posture without even realizing it.
Setting reminders for yourself to focus on good posture can be helpful when you’re first starting out. You can leave sticky notes on surfaces you look at often, like the corner of your laptop screen, your refrigerator, or your bathroom mirror. You can also set alarms on your phone once an hour during your workday, reminding you to improve your posture and to get up and stretch.
Making sure to stretch daily is key to great posture. It allows tense muscles some relief, and it’s great for increasing flexibility and mobility. Before bed each night, try out the following stretches:
- Active Child’s Pose: To perform, begin on your hands and knees. Widen your knees as far as shoulder-width apart, then, keeping the bottoms of your feet facing the ceiling, touch your big toes together. Crawl your hands forward, and either extend your arms straight out in front of you or drape your arms on the floor alongside your body. Slowly drop your hips back to rest on your heels. Rest your forehead on the floor and breathe deeply.
- Standing Forward Fold: Start with feet hip-width apart. With a generous bend in your knees, exhale, and bend forward at your hips, lengthening the front of your torso. Bend your elbows, and hold onto each elbow with the opposite hand. Let the crown of your head hang down, and press your feet into the floor. Pull your shoulders away from your ears, and drop your head and neck. Breathe in and out, folding deeper with each exhalation. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Thoracic Spine Rotation: For this one, start on all fours, with fingers spread slightly. Place your left hand behind your head, but keep your right hand outstretched on the ground in front of you. Rotate your left elbow to the sky while exhaling, stretching the front of your torso, and hold for a deep breath. Return to the starting position, switch arms, and repeat.
- Cat-Cow: Start on all fours with everything aligned—shoulder over wrists, hips over knees, and the tops of your feet flush on the floor. Look down a few inches in front of your fingers, and lengthen your head down to your tailbone.
To start the cat pose, curve your spine up to the ceiling and tuck your tailbone while you let out your breath. Lengthen your neck and tuck your chin.
To start the cow phase, push out your rear end, and drop your belly towards the floor as you exhale, arching your spine. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lift your eyes up to the ceiling. Cycle through both cat and cow a few times.
Not only can pain caused by bad posture be annoying, but it can also actually be damaging to the internal mechanisms that make up your shoulders. Be mindful to keep good posture, and remember not to ignore pain when it arises.
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