If you find that maintaining correct posture hurts, know that you are not alone; if there is one topic we are researching en masse it’s bad posture and the neck and shoulder pain that inevitably follows. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn why correct posture hurts, how you can fix your posture by becoming more aware, and, in doing so, tackle that incessant neck and shoulder pain.
We all have bad posture
Well, maybe not all of us, but most of us do. On Pinterest alone, phrases such as ‘how to fix bad posture’, ‘posture correction diy’, ‘how to get better posture’, ‘yoga for better posture’ and ‘posture support’ are receiving over 5 million monthly searches individually! If you’re tempted to click away and join the masses, just hang tight – this article answers each and every one of those questions, including ‘posture correction diy’…I know that one caught your eye 😉
Tapping into the poor posture taboo
Initially, when I sat down to write an article about why correct posture hurts’ I caught myself not wanting to write phrases like ‘bad posture’, and I wondered if I should opt for something like ‘challenging posture’ instead. But I quickly realized that, with this kind of thinking, I had inadvertently gotten caught up in poor posture taboo! Not many people are shouting from the rooftops about how terrible their posture is, and how they are struggling with neck and shoulder pain as a result. But whilst no one’s really talking about it, there are millions of searches across multiple platforms about how to fix poor posture! So, I can’t help but wonder, if so many of us are encountering the same problems then why all the secrecy?
My own journey of fixing bad posture
I was involved in a car accident when I was 12 years old and have been battling with chronic neck pain ever since. My anatomy doesn’t help either; I have scoliosis and a slight kyphosis too. I have been exploring ways to navigate my neck pain and improve my posture for the last two decades, including seeking help from acupuncturists, chiropractors, physical therapists and many many more specialists. This is what I have learned.
A problem shared is a problem halved: rid yourself of poor posture taboo
If you’re anything like me then you’re battling with poor posture and neck and shoulder pain on a very frequent basis. You’ve probably kept quiet about it all and turned instead to the internet for ‘solutions to shoulder pain’, ‘neck pain relief tricks’, ‘how to open your shoulders’, ‘the best massage tools’ out there or ‘simple tricks to fix your posture’. In doing so, I’m guessing that the sheer volume of information and products or services available only served to overwhelm you? Yep, that was me too. But the good news is that the first step to addressing poor posture is actually very easy; shed the taboo and start talking about it, even if that’s just with close friends and family. It’s extremely likely they are struggling too and may even be able to offer you valuable insights and share resources that have helped them.
Fixing your posture starts with awareness
If maintaining a correct posture hurts, it means that you aren’t able to hold your body in the way it is designed. And without this awareness, you simply are not going to get to the root of the problem, be able to fix it, or deal with your neck and shoulder pain. Awareness of poor posture starts by bridging the gap between your current postural habits and your desired ones. By the way, if you find that maintaining correct posture hurts, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong. Keep that in mind while you continue to read.
Why you are not that aware of your posture
In school sports halls and gymnasiums, we were taught many things that may have unknowingly encouraged good postural habits, and we may occasionally have even been told to ‘sit up straight’. But detailed information on how to find and maintain correct posture isn’t part of the curriculum. The truth is that finding correct posture is tough if maintaining correct posture hurts. Sitting up straight for long stretches of time without having the strength to do so is difficult and it may even lead to the development of increased bodily tension.
Why correct posture hurts (an honest opinion)
Over the years I have heard so many people’s opinions on why I have chronic neck and shoulder pain, including I have poor posture (duh), I stress too much, I move too little or I move too much. Some have even said I hike too much or walk too little. I’ve been told all of the above, and mostly by people with a non-medical background. If you ask me for my honest opinion though, I’d say that for a lot of people it’s just pure bad luck! Some of us just have worse postural habits than others. Some of us struggle, whilst other people never seem to spend any time at all thinking about their posture but sport ramrod straight backs anyway. That’s just how it is. Poor posture is mostly a combination of anatomy/genes, postural habits, and then there’s often a mental part involved too (as is the case for me).
How to cope with your body when correct posture hurts (a step-by-step-guide)
It may feel overwhelming to experience neck and shoulder pain frequently and to constantly be thinking about how to hold your body in a balanced manner. The truth is, you cannot always hold your body as you desire. You’ll get distracted, need to tend to other things, or sometimes you simply don’t have the strength to maintain good posture. That’s why I developed a mindful way to navigate this challenge. Follow this step-by-step guide.
1. Become aware of your posture
You already know that correct posture hurts for you, and you may think that because of that, you’re aware and informed and you can skip the first few steps on your road to recovery. But there’s so much more to learn! You need to get specific; you need to build awareness of all your tiny habits so that you can start detecting them in everyday life and work on changing them. For that to happen, you need to have a detailed understanding of what constitutes good and bad posture, not just a general idea.
2. Understand the difference between good and bad posture
To understand the difference between good and bad posture, you need to be able to describe both good and bad posture. Roughly, a good posture means that you hold your weight evenly divided between both feet, you hold your pelvis neutral instead of titled, you actively lengthen your spine throughout the day, you keep your shoulders rolled open down, your neck long, and your head balanced on top of your spine. I know that, in case correct posture hurts, this sounds like a whole lot. As soon as you understand the differences between good and bad posture, jot them down. Top tip: keeping a posture journal might provide you with more detailed insights on your journey.
3. Explore how different good posture feels from bad posture
Now start exploring the different sensations you feel in your body when you make the transition from bad posture to good posture. For example, you may feel limitations in (relatively short) muscles while trying to elongate your neck, or you may feel uncertain whether or not you’re holding your pelvis correctly. You may not know how to properly open your shoulders. Start moving around, exploring your limitations and sensations, and jot them all down. It might also be helpful to use a full-length mirror, so you can see more clearly how you’re standing. Then, practice holding your body in the correct manner, and note how that feels and looks. This provides insight into the work to be done.
4. Get a support system
Once you have an idea of the work you’ll need to do to correct your poor posture, get a support system. Pick someone, or a handful of people, you can talk about your issues with in a mindful manner. Talking about your challenging posture instead of hiding it and being ashamed will, firstly, bring some relief. You’ll also find that you build more postural awareness moment by moment; each time you talk about your posture you’ll be reminded to adjust yourself. It’s impossible to transition into royal postural habits overnight, but each small step is a step in the right direction and many small steps will eventually take you where you want to be, so just keep at it.
5. Communicate with your support system
If your support system is unsure what to say to you and when, educate them. Tell them exactly what you’re struggling with, and what kind of help you need. But it’s also important that they know not to rag on at you about it all the time too! In my case, I ask my partner to tell me whenever my posture seems poor, but not to bother me too much about it on days when I feel down. Setting boundaries like these, will prevent you from becoming frustrated and not wanting to discuss your postural challenges (anymore). Asking for help can be tough and being open to receiving it is not always simple either, but by communicating openly about your needs you’ll make the process that much easier.
6. Use props and exercises on a daily basis
I’m not going to lie, if correct posture hurts, you need to work on improving your physical health daily. Fortunately, there are a myriad of helpful tools out there to help ease your pain and fix your posture. The best way to know which will be most beneficial to you is by experimenting (a lot). I’ll help get you started by sharing some of my favorite posture props further down this article under “props and exercises.”
My insights while fixing my posture using these tricks
It starts with this quote:
1. How I became aware of my posture
Over the years I’ve experimented with a variety of methods to become aware of my posture. These are, to me at least, the most effective ones:
- Observe. Standing in front of a mirror and analyzing how I hold my body from different angles.
- Explore. Playing around with postural transitions from bad to good.
- Take note. Keeping track of any limitations I detect in my body while making postural transitions, so that I know what to focus on improving.
- Do the work. Loosening up, lengthening, and stretching those focal areas in a soft and mindful manner, staying aware of my body’s boundaries.
- Communicate. Asking people in my close circle to call me out on poor posture.
- Listen and learn. Listening keenly to the opinions of specialists and keeping an open mind to different opinions. I would note all the information I gathered in my posture journal, reflect often, explore again, and start piecing everything together, taking bits of this and bits of that where it felt right.
Ultimately, it was when I took my yoga teacher training that I got to know my body intimately, and I really started to develop a deep understanding of my posture.
2. What I learned about my posture
When checking my posture, I always start at the root; my feet. I’ll then work my way up; ankles, knees, pelvis/hips, core/lower back, upper back, shoulder girdle and arms, neck, and head. I pause in any areas that catch my attention. Here are few key take-aways from these body scans.
- Feet. My weight is usually in the balls of my feet, or even between the balls of my feet and my toes. I need to shift it back more, to the area between my balls of my feet and my heels, for a more balanced weight distribution.
- Anterior pelvic tilt. I have an anterior pelvic tilt and I need to be more aware of holding my pelvis in a neutral position (every day and even multiple times per day). This article by Healthline sums up the specifics of an anterior pelvic tilt clearly and practicing the bridge exercise has already helped me a lot.
- Core and lower back. Because of my anterior pelvic tilt, I tend to slouch into my lower back which causes a stagnation in my abdominal muscles. In this article by Harvard Health Publishing, you can read more about why abdominal strength is essential for good posture.
- Upper back. My thoracic spine has a slightly exaggerated curve, called kyphosis. This is something to be very aware of and to combat when you’re still young if you want to prevent developing a more distinct lump in old age. Practicing heart openers like these will help counteract this kind of deep thoracic curve.
- Shoulder girdle. I store a lot of tension in my shoulders and tend to walk around with rounded shoulders when I’m not paying attention to my posture. One of the reasons why correct posture hurts, in my case, is because my go-to posture is with my shoulders tensely hunched forward and up.
- Neck and head. I have a forward-leaning head posture. In this post I explain the specifics of forward head posture, or nerd neck, and how I actively need to push the crown of my head up toward the sky (and my chin, too!) to combat this.
3. Getting my support system in place
My support system is my partner, with whom I have discussed my challenging posture often and who reminds me whenever I walk around hunched, tense, or too fast (walking too fast is bad for your posture as well! You can read more about that in my post about how to fix nerd neck). I also ask them not to mock my poor posture, even in good humor, and to not mimic my posture, but to keep the feedback helpful, mindful, and concise. Of course, it takes a little while to get used to communicating this kind of feedback, but you’ll figure it out together as long as you both stay mindful. Top tip: take a time-out if you’re temporarily frustrated with him/her/the feedback in general 😉
4. Linking my state of mind to my posture
I have been chronically stressed out for many years and, because of that, a lot of tension has built up in my body. I maintain a completely different lifestyle now, but there’s still a lot of work to do to manage my stress. I still have a lot of tension to shake loose; this just takes time. I’m also shy and introverted so I tend to look down a lot (which doesn’t mean that I’m always staring at the floor, just that I’m not making eye contact the whole time). This also impacts my posture. So, I try to be aware of my state of mind as much as possible by better managing my stress levels and looking up with more confidence when I can.
5. How I let these insights guide me
As well as making a point to take my time walking from place to place I focus on proactively rotating my pelvis back to a neutral position as often as I can remember to do so. I also try to focus on engaging my core more, which encourages me to elongate my spine and stops me from collapsing into my lower back and aggravating the anterior pelvic tilt. Finally, I focus on opening up my chest by rolling my shoulders back and down to elongate my neck and shift the weight of my head back slightly so that it sits in better alignment with my thoracic spine.
6. The props and exercises I use
I have a basic neck and shoulder pain survival kit that I keep with me at all times (also when traveling). This pain survival kit consists of a yoga mat, a bolster, an Iyengar yoga belt, yoga blocks, a blanket, and a massage tool. Read more about survival tricks for getting through tough days here: Guide to dealing with an off-day. I use this kit often to practice restorative yoga for neck and shoulder pain that includes heart and shoulder opening exercises. You can find them below.
How experimenting will help you if correct posture hurts
I can only provide so many insights as I have gathered so far and share what helps me relieve some of my pain. As each body is unique, I encourage you to start experimenting more than just following any guideline that you find online. Sure, you can take this guide as a starting point. But as you find out more about your own body, keep researching ways to improve your own bodily limitations, too. Staying curious and exploring different props and exercises will eventually lead to your ability to fix your posture. Keep reading for ways to start exploring.
1. Yoga props for neck and shoulder pain
The yoga props that I use on a daily basis are the ones I mentioned in my survival kit above. You could also add a pair of half yoga blocks to that and a yoga wheel; a yoga wheel is great to rest your upper back over, open your heart and roll down your shoulders. I also use the wall often for more passive, feel-good stretches. Stock up on whatever you don’t already have lying around, and start to explore.
2. Yoga poses for neck and shoulder pain
Now that you are fully equipped with my guide to fixing poor posture you can get to work! I recommend doing shoulder openers and heart openers every day, or two times a day if you can. You can find relaxing yoga poses for shoulder pain in this post and 3 more ways to open your shoulders here. To improve your overall flexibility, which also contributes to developing better posture, you can try a few of these simple tricks.
3. The diy posture corrector: the strap jacket
This is the one trick that aids my posture the most and is the one I use the most, on a daily basis in fact. It’s neither a yoga pose nor an exercise, it’s a posture corrector, and a diy one, to be specific. I prefer this posture corrector, that you can make fairly easily with a yoga belt, over any other posture corrector out there, because you can fully adjust it to your own body’s dimensions and needs.
How to put on the strap jacket
For this, you need an Iyengar yoga belt, which is slightly narrower than your usual yoga strap. My Iyengar belt is approximately 3 cm wide and 240 cm long. When putting on the jacket, make sure to check at each step if the belt is not curled or twisted. It is very important that the belt is flat on your body, for the most impact and least strain.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and take the belt in your hands.
- Place the belt underneath your shoulder blades.
- Guide both tail-ends to the front-side of your body (under the armpits, but not tight).
- Throw both tail-ends over your shoulders. Then, pull them down with both hands.
- Now, take the opposite tails-ends in your hands and cross them at the back, so that you create an X as shown in the picture.
- Pull down the tail-ends tightly (but be mindful, don’t overdo it) so that you feel the belt pulling down your trapezius muscle. This movement helps relax the muscle group. Keep pulling for approximately 15 seconds.
- Guide both tail-ends again to the front side of your body and pull tightly so that the jacket holds your upper body firmly.
- Fasten the belt at the front of your waist. Fasten it quite tightly, but make sure that you are still able to breathe. You may want to sit with the jacket for 10 minutes up to an hour. Later on, maybe even longer.
- Top tip: draw the belt a bit more outward at the shoulder crossing, for more active shoulder opening.
Learn more about the strap jacket and posture improvement
If you want to discover exactly how to put on the strap jacket and learn my daily posture improvement routine that comes with it, including how to fix your posture while working a desk job, drop me a line. I will roll out a posture improvement course over the next few months and will send you an email as soon as I have more specifics to share 🙂 In the subject line just enter ‘posture improvement course’. You can leave the message field empty. I won’t bother you with newsletters in the meantime.
4. Tools for neck and shoulder pain relief
On days when my neck and shoulder pain is unbearably bad, I fix myself a hot water bottle, use my massage tool to loosen my neck and shoulder muscles (it’s this one) and use heat patches. As well as this, if I haven’t done my yoga practice (yet) I will do a few sun salutations to lengthen my spine and open my shoulders. After that, I’ll clear my schedule, light a scented candle, and just rest (rest is another highly effective pain relief tool :)).
5. Other ways to ease the pain if correct posture hurts
- Surrender to how you feel and take a few days off (this is not giving up: this is giving in, which is good for your body).
- Upgrade your workstation if you haven’t done that yet. Make sure to switch from sitting to standing often during the day.
- Swap your ergonomic desk chair for a chair without armrests or a stability ball (make sure it’s an ergonomic one) every now and then to activate and lengthen different muscle groups.
- Change up your sports pattern if you often feel sore after working out.
Checklist: how to improve your posture if correct posture hurts
- Become aware of your posture.
- Understand the difference between good and bad posture.
- Explore how different good posture feels from bad posture.
- If correct posture hurts, always get a support system.
- Communicate with your support system.
- Link your state of mind to your posture.
- Let your insights guide you on your posture improvement journey.
- Use yoga poses, yoga props and exercises on a daily basis.
- Try out the Iyengar strap jacket if correct posture hurts.
- Let neck and shoulder pain tools relieve your pain.
- Think out-of-the-box when exploring how to fix your posture.
- Fixing your posture if correct posture hurts; a sum-up: experiment, communicate openly, try neck and shoulder pain yoga, use props and tools, think out-of-the-box.
Want to know more about why correct posture hurts?
A very helpful source on becoming aware of your posture is the Alexander Technique. This technique teaches us how to improve our posture and movement by releasing unconscious tension and ingrained unhelpful habits. Head over to the Alexander Technique website to learn more.
Want to read more about coping with chronic neck and shoulder pain?
Check out the Instagram account The Chronically Honest. The entries are shaped around her journey on coping with chronic illness (IBD), are spot on and very relatable if you’re in chronic pain and correct posture hurts. I’ve found that her take on chronic illness is as sharp-as-a-knife but still compassionate. I also often use her posts to help educate people in my environment whenever they don’t seem to understand a certain aspect of my chronic pain.
Want to discover how to deal with a bad day?
Bad days are part of dealing with chronic pain, and of human life in general. So, don’t feel guilty if you’re having a bad day. You’re entitled to feel bad as much as you’re entitled to feel good. My guide to having an off-day will help you through days when you feel down.
More tips on getting to know your body?
The one key takeaway I’ll share with you on anything posture-related is to think out-of-the-box. If correct posture hurts, work on proactively improving your posture and movement patterns, but also deliberately take time to rest. It might seem counterintuitive, but this kind of lateral thinking works in other areas of your body too. For example in my Ultimate guide to the forward fold I explain how back bending helps improve forward folds. So why not try shake things up and come at the problem from a different perspective? You never know what creative solutions you might stumble upon.
Learn more about posture improvement and pain relief
I will roll out a posture improvement course over the next few months, in which I elaborate on every single one of the above-mentioned tricks and tools. I will also zoom in on my top neck and shoulder pain relief tricks. As for me, those two go hand-in-hand 🙂 Drop me a line if you’d like to know more as soon as I have the specifics. In the subject line just enter ‘posture improvement course’. You can leave the message field empty. I won’t bother you with newsletters in the meantime.
Did you enjoy reading this post?
I sure hope you did 🙂 If you have any questions, recommendations, or experiences you want to share I’d be more than happy to read your thoughts! You can leave your comment in the field below. Do you know someone who could benefit from reading about how correct posture hurts? Feel free to share this post (via the URL bar or any of the social share buttons) and get the positive energy flowing!