5 Unexpected Health Risks of Bad Posture

Slouching hurts more than just your back.

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Slouching can cause pain and lead to all types of problems with the spine, but the health concerns go beyond your musculoskeletal system. Poor posture takes its toll on a variety of organs—such as the stomach and veins—and make some of your basic bodily processes difficult.

Here are some of the unexpected ways your body suffers if you have poor posture:

1. Heartburn and GERD.

Heartburn, or acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid leaks backwards into the esophagus. Because the esophagus isn’t lined to protect against this acid (like the stomach is), it causes a burning, irritating pain in the chest. Learn more about what causes frequent heartburn here.  

How does posture come into this? Anything that adds extra pressure to the stomach—including pregnancy and excess abdominal weight—can weaken the esophageal sphincter, which is the valve that separates the stomach and esophagus. Slouching can put pressure on the stomach, and the stomach acid is more likely to leak into the esophagus, leading to symptoms of acid reflux.

2. Constipation.

Good posture aids in normal bowel movements. If you take your slouching to the toilet, you might find yourself straining more than you should, or being totally blocked up. When having a “go” on the toilet, try to sit with your back straight and with your knees higher than your hips—hence the introduction of new toilet stools (like the Squatty Potty) to raise your knees as you sit.

Here are other habits to prevent constipation.

3. Incontinence.

Stress incontinence is the tendency to leak urine involuntarily when you laugh, cough, jump, or sneeze. It typically stems from poor control of the pelvic floor muscles, which is a common problem for women after childbirth.

Like with heartburn, incontinence may be caused or worsened by poor posture due to the added pressure on the organs (in this case, the bladder). This puts extra strain on the pelvic floor muscles, making you more susceptible to leakage.

4. Breathing problems.

Poor posture usually results in a drooped neck. This not only can lead to neck and back pain, but it also strains the muscles that assist in breathing, known as the respiratory accessory muscles.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation found a correlation between head position and lung capacity and something known as “maximal voluntary ventilation,” which is the max volume of air that can be inhaled and exhaled in a specific period of tie.

In other words, poor head and neck position appeared to lower respiratory function for the participants. That suggests poor posture could potentially aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

5. Blood circulation problems.

The truth is, sitting for long periods of time in any position can affect your blood flow, so taking active breaks is key (yes, including on those long international flights). But some positions do more harm than others.

In particular, sitting with crossed legs or with limbs tucked or bent in strange positions can force your veins to work harder than necessary to circulate.  Overtime, this could result in problems like varicose veins or blood clots, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

These five problems add to the already lengthy list of reasons you should roll those shoulders back and sit up tall. It might feel awkward at first, but your muscles adapt and it becomes a natural habit. Try these tips for a posture upgrade: