Posture seems to be on everyone’s mind right now thanks to the uptick in work-from-home jobs, coupled with the fact that practically everyone has a mobile device to stare at. Cue my usual laments about the sedentary nature of the modern lifestyle. Not only do we sit too much and move too little, many folks alternate between hunching forward over a keyboard and looking down at a phone or tablet all day, every day.
The result? Widespread poor posture and growing concerns about what this means for public health. Forward head posture (aka “tech neck“), rounded shoulders, and slouched, rounded spines all contribute to:
- Soreness and pain throughout the body
- Muscular weaknesses and imbalances that lead to dysfunctional movement patterns
- Breathing issues
- Headaches and migraines
Poor posture also affects your mood and how you respond to stressful events. The field of embodied cognition examines how physical states affect thoughts, emotions, and memory. Slumping or slouching saps your energy, biases you towards negativity, and can even decrease self-esteem. People also respond to you better when you hold yourself upright.
As more people are talking about this problem, interest in posture correcting devices is increasing. The question at hand today is whether they work and if you might want to try one out for yourself.
Types of Posture Correctors
I’m focusing today on wearable devices intended to correct forward head posture, rounded shoulders, and slouching/rounding through the midback and lower back—devices that you can buy at any store. Pneumatic traction devices and doctor-prescribed orthopedic devices designed to correct scoliosis are separate topics.
These devices come in a few different varieties:
You’ve got cross-back braces, which are harnesses that wrap around the front of your shoulders like backpack straps and cross in between your shoulder blades. They can be made out of elastic tubing or more rigid fabrics. They’re designed to retract the shoulders and pull them more in line with the spine instead of rounding forward.
Posture bras look like a typical bra or sports bra, but they have a cross-back brace built into the fabric.
Longline posture braces look like cross-back braces at the top, but they extend all the way down the spine and connect to a lumbar belt that wraps around your waist and supports the lower back.
You can also buy a lumbar support belt separately, as well as neck braces meant to correct forward head posture.
The newest innovation on the scene for tech lovers is electronic posture devices that you strap on or stick to your back. The wearables vibrate when they sense slouching, prompting you to fix your posture. Some electronic devices connect to an app on your phone, allowing you to track posture throughout the day and see your progress.
Which one is best for you? It depends on:
- What you’re trying to fix, where you’re experiencing discomfort
- When and how you intend to wear it – over or under clothing, only while sitting at a desk or also while exercising and going about your day
- Fit and comfort
- Price point – posture correctors range from around 10 dollars for a simple cross-back brace to ten times that or more for more elaborate set-ups
Do Posture Correctors Work?
First let’s talk about how they supposedly work. Rigid braces hold your back in proper alignment. But for the most part, the posture correctors that are so popular on social media provide light mechanical support and, more importantly, a physical reminder to straighten up. The mechanical support helps pull your shoulders into a more desirable retracted position. This physical reminder, or proprioceptive feedback, helps you establish better habitual body position.
Proprioceptive feedback, by the way, is probably one reason that kinesiology tape (KT tape) works, too. It brings awareness to parts of the body that may be weak or vulnerable and reminds the nervous system to provide appropriate internal support. KT taping can also be used to establish better posture.
As for whether posture correctors do what they are supposed to do, a handful of studies confirms that posture correcting devices can bring the head, neck, shoulders, and back into better alignment. So in that sense, yes, they work. At least, the ones that have been tested work. The data is really pretty limited here.
Moreover, there’s almost no evidence that they provide the downstream effects we ultimately want—decreased pain, better mobility, and so on. One study of 32 women with neck pain did find that wearing a compression shirt with built-in bracing for three months improved posture and reduced pain better than exercising. Other than that, there’s not much to go on.
So Should You Try One?
It seems that posture correctors do what they claim to do on the most basic level: help correct posture. If you have 20 bucks lying around and want to try one, it seems fairly low risk. There are also instructions online for rigging up a DIY device with materials you probably already have lying around.
That said, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on devices like these to fix bad posture. You’ll also want to work on strengthening your postural muscles. These include your core muscles, naturally, but correct posture is really a whole-body activity. Yet another reason why it’s important to vary your position throughout the day, move frequently, and include resistance exercise (insert shameless plug for the Primal Essential Movements here) and balance exercises that improve your proprioception.
Pretty much all strengthening exercises can promote better posture, provided you do them with good form. The catch-22 here is that if you already have bad posture, you’re likely exhibiting that same bad posture during exercise. Focusing on proper form and exercising in front of a mirror can help. For folks already suffering from neck, shoulder, or back pain, a physical therapist can identify specific weaknesses and recommend a customized program.
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll also discuss how to specifically target the rounded shoulders that are so typical among people who work at a computer, play a lot of video games, or stare at a device in their laps. (So, most people.) Breathwork is another great tool, so I’ll link some relevant MDA posts below.
How to Get Started
Aim for the minimum effective dose. Start with a basic elastic band or strap style rather than jumping into a hard-core pneumatic device or full-back brace. The goal is to do as little as possible externally while also working on developing internal postural strength and balance.
Try wearing it for a couple hours per day for a few weeks. See how you feel. You may need to start smaller, 20 or 30 minutes, and work up to an hour or two. I wouldn’t wear it more than that unless your physiotherapist told you to do so. It’s theoretically possible to provide too much passive stretching to the chest muscles. And obviously, if you have ongoing shoulder or chest injuries (torn muscles, nerve impingement, broken bones, recent surgery, or unexplained acute pain), talk to your doc before strapping in.
Let me know how it goes!
Breathwork posts from MDA: