When the topic of poor posture-related pain comes up, the first assumption is that it’s your back and neck that will feel the burn. However, it cannot be overstated that posture is the positioning of the whole body, not just one part of it. Bad posture can cause a myriad of different effects, including pinched nerves, stiffness, and even a loss of balance. However, there is one particular side effect of bad posture that can cause so much anxiety that it sends people running to the ER in a panic: chest pain. You may not have considered that chest pain can actually be caused by non-cardiac issues, such as bad posture or a misalignment in the spine. But those are common causes of chest pain, and we’re going to look directly at how bad posture can bring about pain in the front of your chest.
The first question you’re likely to hear when discussing this subject is a simple one: why does hunching my back make my chest hurt? Aren’t they two completely different parts of my body? The answer is yes, but as with the numerous parts in a car, a fault in one area can lead to the degradation of another. This is why, for example, getting back pain treatment can also alleviate other ailments that may seem unrelated at first glance. Your mental health can even be connected to the state of your back, so chest pain is not out of the question.
There are many reasons why your poor posture could be causing chest pain, but the most likely reason is upper-crossed syndrome, or UCS. Put simply, UCS occurs as a result of an imbalance in the muscles in your shoulders and back. This imbalance is generally attributed to a hunched sitting posture, which causes the muscles in the back to become overused and stretched while the muscles in the chest become underused and tightened. The hunched spine, tightened back muscles, and weak chest muscles all create the perfect storm to generate simultaneous chest and back pain.
This condition is incredibly common in office workers, who spend most of their days hunched over a keyboard doing repetitive tasks. In fact, it’s so prevalent that it falls under a category known as “work-related neck/shoulder disorders,” or WNSDs. At the highest estimates, it’s thought that nearly 50% of white-collar workers will suffer from a WNSD every year, and the number will no doubt continue to rise as more jobs become sedentary.
Right now, we ask you to take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then let it go. Once you’ve done that, ask yourself: where did you feel that air flow into? Under normal circumstances, you should probably have felt it in your belly. However, as stated before, a hunched posture can lead to the muscles in the front of the body becoming weak and compressed by the weight of the back. In a healthy individual, the abdominal muscles will tighten and pull down on the diaphragm, allowing for an increase in lung capacity and the feeling that your belly is filling with air. If your posture is bad, this action can become impeded, leading to a more chest-focused breathing technique with a reduced lung capacity.
Even without the bane of UCS, this can still cause debilitating chest pain, especially when exercise becomes a part of the equation. Any time you compress your lungs, you are setting yourself up for potential chest pain, and a hunched posture will accomplish this quite easily.
Precordial Catch Syndrome
This one is more nebulous, as scientists still don’t know exactly what causes precordial catch syndrome, or PCS. Reigning theories state that it is likely the result of a pinched nerve or a muscle strain deep in the chest. However, there have been connections made between poor posture and PCS, including the fact that oftentimes just sitting up straight or lying flat on your back for a few minutes can cause symptoms to dissipate faster.
To the uninformed, PCS can be terrifying to experience, as it’s easily mistaken for a heart attack. It presents as a sharp pain, often localized to a specific point near the heart on the left side of the chest. Unlike a heart attack, it won’t radiate to other parts of the body, and the pain is the only direct symptom. You may experience shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, and lightheadedness, but with PCS, they will occur as a direct response to the pain you are in rather than as independent symptoms. It usually only lasts a few seconds to around three minutes, but there are some recorded cases of PCS lasting over half an hour.
How to Mend the Pain
In many cases, the chest pains caused by poor posture can simply be solved through posture correction. This can be done alone or with a professional’s guidance and mostly involves just being aware of how your body is positioned throughout the day. It can help to set timers throughout the day, reminding you to frequently check how you’re sitting in order to develop a habit. In more severe cases where it’s difficult for one to return to a healthy posture, physical therapy may be utilized to build up the muscles that have been atrophied by prolonged bouts of poor posture. In the most severe cases, surgery may be required to correct the damage that has been done.
As with all medical issues, it’s better to seek treatment sooner rather than later, and we strongly recommend that you consult a doctor if you find yourself in a prolonged state of pain. Here at AICA Atlanta, we utilize professionals from a wide array of fields such as orthopedics, chiropractic, and neurology in order to create a specialized treatment plan that suits your specific case. No matter what the right approach is for your case, you can breathe easy knowing that we’ll be able to adapt and get your back on the straight and narrow once more.