Common posture problems and how to fix them

Our guide covers all you need to know about the most common posture problems.

Last updated: Feb 15th, 2024
Having Good Posture Illustration

Everyone slouches occasionally — whether you’re tired from a long day, nursing an injury, scrolling through your phone, or even sitting in an uncomfortable chair, slouching happens to the best of us. But even though it might feel like your muscles are more relaxed when you slouch or round your shoulders, it can ultimately lead to muscle fatigue and tension that culminates in poor posture.

Posture problems are a widespread concern. An estimated 34-50% of children and adolescents and around 79% of young adults have some degree of incorrect posture. These “postural deviations” can reduce how well your muscles work alongside your bones, leading to concerns like migraines and chronic pain. By the year 2050, over 57 million people in North America are estimated to experience lower back pain.

But how can you correct or prevent poor posture? Are there ways to avoid pain or further injuries? Our guide to fixing your posture covers everything you need to know, including the most common posture mistakes and how to correct them.

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What is posture?

The word “posture” means how your body is positioned in space. The purpose of posture is to maintain your balance when moving and at rest, and it’s due to interactions between your muscles and skeleton to properly distribute your weight. Your posture isn’t a conscious decision but an automatic reaction to gravity. Researchers note that there are three key concepts that summarize posture:

  1. Spatiality: the position of the body in three dimensions and the spatial relationship between various skeletal segments
  2. Anti-gravity: postural balance is in response to gravity, the external force felt by everything (your body included)
  3. Balance: can be static (still) or dynamic (moving); the relationship between you and your surroundings or environment

There are two kinds of posture:

  • Functional (correct posture): normal, pain-free posture
  • Non-functional (incorrect posture): painful posture that includes factors like muscle tension or balance issues

Incorrect posture can lead to a myriad of concerns, such as neck pain, back problems, headaches, incontinence, constipation, and even heartburn or acid reflux.

Insider Tip: Contrary to popular belief, poor posture does not cause scoliosis. It runs in families and the cause is often unknown.

How posture affects movement

When you slouch or maintain poor posture, the muscles in your body become “trained” to use them in that way; the poor posture becomes a habit for your body. And our bodies prefer to do things in the easiest and most familiar way, leading to a kind of vicious cycle.

For example, if your body becomes used to slouching, then your muscles will change to accommodate that position. This may cause difficulty when walking, making you stroll with a gait unlike your natural one, which places stress on various parts of the body and can lead to concerns like back, knee, and hip pain over time.

But what is the best posture to maintain for proper movement? There actually isn’t a one-size-fits-all posture; everyone’s ideal posture is different according to their unique bodies. However, there are a few requirements for proper posture:

  • Balanced, strong postural muscles (upper back, chest, core) with good flexibility
  • Normal joint motion (or as close to your normal as possible if you have a joint condition)
  • An awareness of your posture and the knowledge of how to correct it

Proper posture when standing and sitting

Having proper posture helps your body remain properly aligned and makes it easier to breathe, move, and function. Finding your body's “neutral” point is the first step to having good posture. This is our natural position, or when the body is in a position where the least amount of stress is on your joints, muscles, and ligaments while moving or during weight-bearing activities (like lifting and carrying groceries, for example).

Standing posture

To have proper posture while standing, your chin should be tucked, your neck neutral, and your shoulders should be down and back. At the same time, your core should be engaged but not tense. Ideally, your hips and spine will be neutral and balanced, and your feet should have a strong, stable arch with your weight evenly distributed.

Sitting posture

Proper sitting posture means that your lower back is supported, your feet are flat on the floor, and your chin is aligned over your chest. If you are sitting and working at a desk, your computer monitor (or laptop) should be at eye level, with knees and elbows bent to 90 degrees.

Common posture mistakes and how to correct them

No one is perfect; we all make a few posture mistakes daily. But the first step to correcting your posture is to identify which mistakes you may be making. The chart below lists seven common posture mistakes, how they affect your body, and some exercises to correct them. By understanding what’s wrong and taking action, you can improve your posture and prevent future pain or injury.

Slouching when sitting

Slouching when you sit doesn’t normally cause immediate harm or discomfort — in fact, it may feel more comfortable if your muscles have grown accustomed to it. However, over time slouching can increase strain on certain muscles and lead to back or neck pain.

To help fix the results of a slouching posture, you’ll want to focus on engaging your core, buttock muscles, and lower back muscles. When you sit in a chair, you can practice sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your core engaged. Additionally, some exercises to strengthen the muscles needed to avoid slouching include bridges, back extensions, and planks.

Standing with hips pushed forward

Standing with your hips or pelvis pushed forward and your buttocks further out behind you may be caused by a condition called lumbar lordosis (also known as “swayback”). However, this can also be caused by wearing high heels, having overweight around the stomach, and pregnancy.

To correct this posture, you’ll want to strengthen your core, buttocks, hip flexors, and thighs. Some applicable exercises include planks, side-lying leg raises, hip flexor stretches, and standing thigh stretches.

Standing with a flat back

While you could technically consider this to be “standing too straight,” it’s not quite the same thing. Our spines have a natural curvature that allows you to remain balanced and stand for long periods of time. But standing with a flat back means your pelvis is tucked in, with your lower back straight instead of relaxed and following its intended curve. This is often due to muscle strength imbalances or sitting down for extended periods of time, but it can also be caused by Flatback Syndrome, which comes with difficulty standing and chronic pain.

To correct this posture mistake, the focus should be on strengthening your core, buttocks, neck, lower back, and shoulder muscles. Some exercises include planks, chest stretches, seated rows, back extensions, and pull-ups.

Leaning on one leg

Many people have a stronger side that they feel more comfortable leaning on, especially after standing for a while. Doing this shifts the responsibility of keeping you upright from your buttocks and core muscles to your lower back and hip. Over time, this can lead to physical complications and pain.

To correct the effects of this posture, you’ll want to focus on strengthening your core and buttock muscles. These muscles will help you correct uneven hips and relieve lower back pain. Planks, side-lying leg raises, and bridges can help strengthen the necessary muscles.

Hunching over

As technology has become more and more prevalent in our daily lives, so too has hunching over a keyboard or smartphone. Some people have even dubbed this posture mistake as “text neck.” This can lead to a tight chest and weak upper back.

To strengthen your upper back, neck, and shoulder muscles, you could try seated rows, pull-ups, or chest stretches.

Sticking your chin out

This posture mistake often happens when someone has their computer screen too high, is sitting in a chair that is too low, is sitting hunched over, or a combination of all three. This posture is easy to correct and just requires the person to pay closer attention to how they are sitting and adjust accordingly.

Rounded shoulders

This can look similar to slouching, but rounded shoulders are caused by a tight chest and a weak upper back. You can check for this posture by letting your arms hang by your sides. If they naturally turn to have your knuckles facing forward, then you have rounded shoulders. Causes include poor posture habits or muscle strength imbalances.

Some exercises that can help correct rounded shoulders include planks, bridges, chest stretches, and pull-ups.

Insider Tip: The UK’s National Health Service offers a great starting guide (with videos) on various strength and flexibility exercises, including some for posture.

How to prevent back and neck pain

Back and neck pain resulting from poor posture isn’t necessarily permanent. There are many ways to relieve pain (or reduce the chances of it happening in the future) through a combination of lifestyle changes and physical activity.

Note: These steps should be able to help most people. However, if you already experience back or neck pain or have an injury, we always recommend speaking with your doctor first to make sure you’re cleared to do so.

Back pain

To keep your back healthy, try to focus on strengthening your core and lifting things with your legs instead of your back. Keeping active with walks, stretches, and strengthening exercises can be beneficial as well. And when you sleep, it’s best to avoid lying flat on your back, as this puts pressure on your spine. Placing a pillow under your knees can alleviate some of this pressure, and side sleepers can also benefit from placing a pillow between their knees for the same purpose.

Additionally, lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking can also help. The latter can increase your risk for degenerative spinal diseases.

Neck pain

For reducing or preventing neck pain, consider moving around more often or frequently changing positions while seated. With technology, keeping your computer monitor at eye level and your tablet propped up at a 45-degree angle (instead of on your lap) is recommended. Getting adequate rest and not using too many pillows when you sleep can also be beneficial.

And, as with your back, taking breaks, stretching, and walking around periodically throughout the day may help prevent or relieve neck pain.

Frequently asked questions about posture



Innerbody uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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