The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Improve your posture and reduce back and neck pain

Written by
Karyn Hughes, MEd
Posted in
Move more

Tuesday, Jul 07, 2015

There are numerous lifestyle factors related to back and neck pain such as poor posture, improper biomechanics, poor flexibility, muscle weakness, upper body obesity, and smoking.

Easy-to-Do Assessments

Postural Alignment: From a side view of one’s posture, correct alignment consist of an imaginary vertical line that would pass down through the ear lobe to the top of the shoulder, the top and center of the hip, straight down the thigh bone, the knee, and slightly in front of the large, lateral, protruding ankle bone. Deviations from this alignment might be a forward head position, rounded shoulders, an excessive lumbar curve or a flat back. These and other postural deviations cause excessive loads on the spine and other structures. If you are suffering chronic back, neck or joint pain it is advised that you consult a medical health practitioner to get a diagnosis and individualized program.

Back and Hamstring Flexibility:

  1. Warm up by marching in place, then walk forward lifting one leg then the other to an easy range of motion to warm up the hamstrings, finish with ¼ to ½ body squats.
  2. Sit on the edge of a stable chair with both feet flat on the floor.
  3. Extend the right leg out straight.
  4. Sit up tall, extend your arms out straight, with one hand on top of the other.
  5. Slowly lean forward without rounding your back reaching for the toes or your right foot.
  6. The goal is to be able to reach your toes.
Exercises to Improve Two Common Postural Problems

For Forward Head Posture: For every 1 inch the head is translated forward, the weight of the head is increased by a factor of 10.  Generally the shoulders round first, then the head translates forward causing stress on the cervical extensor muscles. To improve this condition do this Scapular and Neck Retraction Exercise:

  1. Lie on your back on a firm surface like the floor. You may bend the knees and place feet flat on the floor.
  2. To begin, place the arms straight by your side.
  3. Slowly raise your hands off the floor bending at the elbow so that the arms look like you are forming a goal post.
  4. Now, press the chin back and in (like making a double chin).
This will stretch the neck extensors and strengthen the upper back (the middle trapezius and rhomboids).

For Sway Back/Anterior Pelvic Tilt:

  1. Stretch the hip flexors. Stand up with right foot in front and both feet pointing  forward; tuck the buttocks under (posterior tilt) and your will feel the stretch in the front of the hip joint.
  2. Strengthen the hamstrings, gluteus maximus (buttocks), with leg presses, squats and lunges.
  3. Strengthen the abdominal muscles and obliques.
  4. Stretch lower back muscles; lie down then bring one knee to the chest. Hold 15-60 seconds.  Repeat to other side. Repeat 2-4 times. Then progress to both knees to chest.
  5. To strengthen the core (abdominals and back erectors), gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and quadriceps, perform a bridge exercise.  Lying with your feet flat on the floor about 8-12 inches from your glutes, lift your hips up. Hold the pelvic bridge for 5 seconds, lower to the ground and repeat working up to 10-15 repetitions. You may do just from the floor or on a BOSU.
Tips to Avoid Back Stress or Injury
  1. Do not lift heavy loads with full spinal flexion (bending at the waist).
  2. Do not lift heavy loads and then add spinal rotation (twisting the spine).
  3. Tighten (engage) your abdominal muscles before lifting loads.
  4. Lift slower as it reduces the stress forces that can injury the spine because "Force = Mass X Acceleration."
  5. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods at a time.
  6. If you have upper body obesity (fat carried around the abdomen) reduce your body fat and weight.
  7. Stop smoking as smoking decreases blood supply to the vertebral disc causing faster degeneration.