Recently, while slouching over my phone and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I noticed several posts on my feed about road-testing "posture correctors."
As you can imagine, in that moment, my own posture was anything but correct — my shoulders were rounded, my head was leaning forward, and obviously, my back didn't feel great!
These braces supposedly help correct your posture, therefore easing some discomfort. I can't say I wasn't intrigued, but was the answer to fixing my bad habit really as simple (and easy) as a $30 Amazon purchase?
Not totally convinced, I reached out to Dr. Rahul Shah, a board-certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon for thoughts on posture-correcting braces, as well as general doctor-approved tips for improving posture.
For starters, poor posture is something to take seriously.
"Poor posture causes a domino effect, with the weakest area of the body being affected negatively," Dr. Shah explained.
"For example, if your neck is weaker than your back and you have poor posture, your neck could be used to compensate for your back and can lead you to have issues with your neck."
Back pain is also a concern with poor posture for two different reasons.
"Poor posture and back pain are associated – some people have back pain, and then their posture gets worse and more pain ensues. Others put their backs in poor posture, causing pain. In most cases, poor posture and back pain go hand in hand," Dr. Shah said.
When I showed Dr. Shah an example of the type of posture corrector that had popped up in my feed, he told me that, in his opinion, they "can pose more risk than they can help, especially if worn for more than a few hours at a time."
"Specifically, these braces, when used in everyday healthy folks, will remove some of the essential stimulus muscles needed to keep the head and torso in a good position," he further explained.
Essentially, Dr. Shah says the brace could counteract the normal function of the muscles, therefore potentially weakening the muscles of the neck and shoulders.
"While the use of these braces in the short term can help someone feel better with temporary improvement of posture, in the long term the muscles will become dependent on the brace and thus will be weaker. In short, muscles need stimulation to keep strong, and these examples of braces will remove part of that essential stimulation," he explained.
Of course, when it comes to using braces, it's always best to check in with your doctor for advice and recommendations on your specific concerns.
You can also work on your posture without an Instagram-influenced purchase — or any purchase at all — with Dr. Shah's tips below.
"Because everyone is different, things like stretching or general aerobics allows your muscles to find a harmonious sweet spot to hold themselves up. With your muscles in harmony with your spine, your posture will be optimized," Dr. Shah said.
When standing, try concentrating on looking straight ahead comfortably with your head held over your pelvis and not stooped forward.
"The more upright you are able to stand, with all things being equal, the more likely you will keep your muscles from fatiguing," he suggested.
Another tip? Work on straightening out your hips to prevent your lower back from straying from its natural position and causing strain.
"To straighten out your hips, try to stretch out your psoas and hip flexor muscles — stretching positively affects the lowest point of your back and works to stand up straighter."
Finally, Dr. Shah said you should avoid any type of long sitting or standing in any one position.
"This will lead you to fatigue your muscles and make you more prone to both poor posture and injury."