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How to fix bad posture

with Physiotherapist Chris Morton

Before we fix the problem, we need to know the symptoms

The back of a woman rubbing her neck
The back of a woman rubbing her neck

Good posture is something many of us covet but few can lay claim to – especially now with working from home becoming more common. But how can you tell if you have bad posture, and is there anything you can do to fix it? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes, according to physiotherapist Chris Morton from Ethos Health.

But before we can fix the problem, we need to understand bad posture symptoms.

“Lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain and upper limb pain, such as wrist and elbow pain, can all be the effects of bad posture,” explains Chris.

Other bad posture symptoms may include:

  • aches and pains in other parts of the body

  • rounded shoulders

  • a potbelly

  • bent knees when standing or walking

  • a forward or backwards lean of the head

  • muscle fatigue

Related: How to fix a sore neck

How do you develop bad posture?

There are a few possible causes of bad posture, says Chris.

“In the body, there are sets of muscles that are in a sort of tug of war – for example, muscles that pull your shoulders forward and muscles that pull your shoulders back. Normally, those muscles are roughly in equilibrium, but when that tug of war isn’t in equilibrium – one set of muscles is ‘winning the war’, so to speak – they’ll tend to pull the joint into a more extreme position. That’s one contributor to bad posture.”

Poor setup of workstations is another common cause, explains Chris.

“When you position your head or other parts of your body incorrectly while looking at a screen, say, and you sustain that position for an extended time, that will lead to overload of muscles.”

According to Chris, another reason for bad posture is – believe it or not – an incorrect glasses prescription. This can cause people to jut their chin forward to better see the screen.

“It is really common!” says Chris.

Certain genetic conditions affecting the spine and hips, injuries, and simple overuse or underuse of muscle groups can all lead to poor posture.

A woman hunched over writing in a notebook as she sits at a bus stop

Can you fix bad posture?

Luckily, it’s not difficult or expensive to resolve. In fact, things like exercise, gentle stretching and even simply making a conscious effort to stand up straight can all make a big difference when it comes to counteracting the effects of bad posture.

“Maintaining good strength and mobility in all your muscles means you won’t end up with one group that’s really strong and going to win that ‘tug-of-war’ against other muscles that are underused,” says Chris.

Pilates and yoga poses, core strengthening exercises and even taking a daily 10-minute walk can all help counteract the causes of bad posture. If you have to cross your legs while sitting, cross at the ankles. Avoid soft, unsupportive seats, use your thighs (not your back) to lift heavy items, and be sure to choose a mattress that is firm enough to support your body.

For personalised advice, we recommend booking an appointment with a physiotherapist who can put together a treatment plan that best suits you and your symptoms.

Related: What to expect from your first physiotherapy appointment

How to fix bad posture at work

A lot more of us are working at home these days, meaning we’re spending more time stationed at improperly set-up workspaces.

“If it’s not for a long time, that’s not such a big deal,” says Chris. “You don’t have to be in great posture all the time. But if people don’t have a good work-from-home setup and they’re in a posture that’s not so good for the majority of their time, that’s not a great place to be.”

To reduce the effects of bad posture while working, advises Chris, try to vary your positions regularly during the day, and stand up or move every 30 minutes.

“Get up, move around, change positions,” he says. “It could just be as simple as standing up while you’re taking a phone call or when there’s a video conference going on that you don’t need to be sitting down for.”

When seated, try to keep your knees and hips level, your feet flat on the ground (or on a footrest, if need be), and your back straight. Roll up a towel and place it on the seat at your lower back for additional support.

Finally, simply making yourself more aware of how you’re positioned at your workstation is something Chris says can be powerful in easing bad posture symptoms.

“A lot of people sit in a less-than-ideal position but don’t realise it. Becoming more aware can be as simple as getting a family member or a colleague to snap a photo of you side-on while sitting at your workstation, then sticking that to the wall in front of your desk as a reminder.”

Need a helping hand?

If you have Extras cover with nib and would like to make an appointment to see a physio, our nib First Choice network should be your first port of call to keep your out-of-pocket expenses low.

nib's First Choice Network is a community of trusted healthcare providers that nib has partnered with to ensure our members receive high quality treatment for an affordable price. The network has now expanded to include physiotherapists, dentists and optometrists.

At nib, we’re passionate about giving our members options, so you can always choose to see the physio of your choice, but by choosing an nib First Choice physio, it simply means you could pay less. Search the nib First Choice network now to find a provider.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

Chris Morton

Chris Morton smiling at the camera in front of a grey wall


Physiotherapist Chris Morton

Chris Morton is a physiotherapist with more than 15 years’ experience who regularly lectures at the University of Newcastle. He’s the operations manager at Ethos Health (part of the nib First Choice Network), where he manages research and product development projects while also treating clients with muscle, joint and soft-tissue pain. His go-to karaoke song is Ice Ice Baby.