July 13, 2023

Recovery Round-Up: 5 Tips to Improve Posture

by Scott Robin, DPT

Our widespread use of screen technology has had detrimental effects on our posture—we hunch over a computer at work, we slump scrolling through our phones on the train home, and we slouch on the couch as we watch TV to end the day. These bad postural habits can lead to negative, long-term consequences if we don’t take preventative action. Research shows that chronic poor posture can result in neck, shoulder, and lower back pain,1,2 in addition to headaches, jaw dysfunction, fatigue, impaired breathing, and even disrupted digestion.3,4 Poor posture fatigues our neck and back muscles and places stress on our spine as our body attempts to counteract the forces of gravity to remain upright. For every inch that our head extends forward (as seen in those with poor posture), there is a 10-pound increase in pressure on the spine.5 Unfortunately, the longer we live with poor posture, the more difficult it is to correct. The best solution to achieving proper posture is to take a proactive approach, which includes addressing postural awareness, mobility, strength, desk ergonomics, and general movement. In this month’s Recovery Round-Up, our physical therapists provide insight into these five categories and provide you with tips to get you started on improving your posture.

Tip #1: Improve your postural awareness 

The first step to improving your posture is understanding the aspects of good posture. Proper posture is achieved when each segment of the body stacks directly above the other.

As shown above, when we have correct posture, a straight line can be drawn between the head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. While it is important to visualize good posture, it is also important to establish postural awareness, or the ability to understand when your body is in optimal alignment. We recommend trying the wall drill, as it provides helpful, tactile feedback for proper positioning.

Wall Drill

  1. Stand 6 inches away from and gently lean back against a wall.
  2. Press your low back into the wall to engage your core.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and press the back of your hands into the wall.
  4. Tuck your chin to elongate your neck and rest the back of your head on the wall.
  5. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

Tip #2: Address mobility deficits

Slouching for prolonged periods of time creates joint and muscle stiffness, making it difficult to sit upright with ease. It is essential that we regularly move our bodies out of the sitting position and into new directions to avoid muscle imbalance and joint restriction.2 For example, sitting involves a flexed position of the spine, hip, and knee. To minimize mobility restrictions, we must include extension-based movements at the spine, hip, knee, and ankle in our daily routine. Adults who fail to address their mobility deficits develop joint degeneration which limits their range of motion and challenges their ability to achieve proper alignment. To prevent this impairment, routine mobility work is needed for the lower/upper back, hips, shoulders, and neck. Start by adding these mobility drills to improve your range of motion.

Seated Cat/Camels (Upper/Lower Back, Neck)

  1. Sit at the edge of a chair and clasp your hands together behind your neck.
  2. Round your spine as far forward as possible.
  3. Arch your entire spine by tilting your pelvis forward, lifting your chest, and looking upward.
  4. Hold for 1-2 seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position and complete 15 repetitions

World’s Greatest Stretch (Hips)

  1. Begin in a kneeling position with your right knee touching the ground.
  2. Place your right hand on the ground and straighten your right leg so that your knee no longer touches the floor.
  3. Attempt to reach your left elbow to the floor.
  4. Rotate your upper body to the left and raise your left arm up toward the ceiling, turning your head to follow your hand.
  5. Return to the starting position and complete 10 repetitions.
  6. Repeat the same steps on the other side.

Wall Angels (Shoulders)

  1. Stand with your back flat against a wall with your arms raised in a 90/90 position.
  2. While maintaining contact with your shoulder blades, elbows, wrists, and head on the wall, slide your arms up and down the wall slowly.
  3. Complete 15 repetitions.

Tip #3: Prioritize strength training

After addressing mobility deficits commonly associated with poor posture, developing strength must be added to support proper positioning. Individuals who are new to strength training often overlook the development of muscles responsible for postural stabilization, including spinal erectors, abdominals, glutes, shoulder blade stabilizers, and neck flexors. Try adding the following exercises into your fitness routine to help you build strength in the muscles that contribute to good posture.

Bridge with Band (Glutes)

  1. Lie on your back with an elastic band wrapped around your knees.
  2. Bend your knees and position your legs hip-width apart.
  3. Push your knees outward until you feel tension on the band.
  4. While maintaining tension on the band, bridge your hips up so that your knees, hips, and shoulders are in alignment and hold for 2 seconds
  5. Return to the starting position and complete 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Chin Retraction (Neck Flexors)

  1. Begin with a forward head position and place your fingertips on your chin.
  2. Use your fingers to draw your head back so that your ears align with your shoulders while looking straight ahead.
  3. Return to the starting position and complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Cheerleaders (Shoulder Blade Stabilizers, Abdominals)

  1. Begin in a seated position with your arms extended in front of you at shoulder height.
  2. Hold a resistance band with your palms facing up.
  3. This exercise is a 3-part movement, returning to the starting position after each pull:
    1. Pull the band apart horizontally.
    1. Pull the band apart diagonally one way.
    1. Pull the band apart diagonally other way.
  4. Always maintain an upright position and begin each pull by squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  5. Complete all 3 movements in 3 sets of 8 repetitions.

Tip #4: Orient your workspace to reflect proper desk ergonomics

Thoughtful organization of your workspace is imperative given the amount of time we spend sitting in front of a computer each day. Adjustments made to the arrangement of the desk, chair, monitor, mouse, and keyboard make a meaningful difference in supporting the spine and minimizing discomfort.6 Ergonomic workstations reduce physical fatigue, increase productivity, and enhance your overall well-being. Reference the diagram below for guidelines to consider when setting up your desk space.6

Ideal Desk Ergonomics

  1. Sit at the back of the chair, keeping your spine supported and head positioned over your ribcage.
  2. Adjust the desk/chair height to allow for the following:
    1. 90-100 angle at the elbows, hips, and knees
    1. Wrists flat on the table
    1. Eyes level with the top of monitor
    1. Feet flat on floor
  3. Position the keyboard and mouse near the edge of the desk to keep your elbows and arms close to your body.

Tip #5: Keep it moving

Even if you sit with perfect posture all day, you should still incorporate regular movement to avoid stiffness and discomfort. Keeping the body active throughout the day improves circulation, boosts energy levels, enhances mood, and lubricates joints. The key is to avoid any static position for more than an hour by alternating your position and incorporating bouts of movement each hour. Try the strategies below to promote regular movement and positional variety.

  1. Use a sit-to-stand desk to make it easier to alternate from sitting to standing positions throughout the day.
  2. Swap your desk chair for an exercise ball and use it as your “chair” for 20 minutes at a time to allow for more spinal and pelvic movement.
  3. Set an alarm on your phone at the top of every hour to remind you to change positions or take a quick walk around your house/office.

The more you break up time spent in one position the less likely you are to adopt poor posture.

As our screentime increases, we must adapt our postural habits to counteract the slouched positions that we assume when using our devices. Use these five practical tips to help you take ownership of your posture. Improving posture requires consistent effort but, over time, enhances your overall well-being and quality of life.

If you have any questions or want additional guidance, please contact physicaltherapy@shiftlife.com or Schedule Physical Therapy Appointment for an in-person assessment of alignment, mobility, strength, and desk ergonomics.

In Real Health,

Scott Robin, PT, DPT & Avis Jason, PT, DPT

SHIFT Physical Therapists

 Reference List

  1. Nejati P, Lotfian S, Moezy A, Nejati M. The study of correlation between forward head posture and neck pain in Iranian office workers. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health. 2015;28(2):295-303. doi:10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00352.
  2. Susilowati I, Kurniawidjaja LM, Nugraha S. The prevalence of bad posture and musculoskeletal symptoms originating from the use of gadgets as an impact of the work from home program of the university community. Heliyon. 2022;8(10) 2405-8440. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2022.e11059.
  3. Szczygieł E, Zielonka K, Mętel S, Golec J. Musculo-skeletal and pulmonary effects of sitting position – a systematic review. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2017;24(1):8-12. doi:10.5604/12321966.1227647.
  4. Page P. Cervicogenic headaches: an evidence-led approach to clinical management. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011;6(3):254-266.
  5. The Physiology of the Joints. Volume 3. The Trunk and the Vertebral Column. Postgrad Med J. 1975;51(599):682-683.Lee S, DE Barros FC, DE Castro CSM, DE Oliveira Sato T. Effect of an ergonomic intervention involving workstation adjustments on musculoskeletal pain in office workers-a randomized controlled clinical trial. Ind Health. 2021;59(2):78-85. doi:10.2486/indhealth.2020-0188
  6. Rebecca Gao. Updated March 30, 2020. “Basic Ergonomics for Your Home Office.” Basic Ergonomics For Your Home Office, 30 Mar. 2020, chatelaine.com/home-decor/home-office-ergonomics-faq/.


mobility, posture, posture mechanics, recovery, sitting, stretching, workplace movement

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