Do Posture Correctors Work?
Working from home with an incorrect ergonomic desk setup can lead to bad posture, but posture correctors may help. Here's what to know about these devices.
With many people now balancing working from home with their regular lives, couches, beds, and recliners are doubling as the new home office setup. It’s no surprise that it’s taking a toll on posture (not to mention, causing dead butt syndrome). When your work setup isn’t the most ergonomic, it can cause you to slouch and affect both your erector and lumbar spine.
“Posture variation and overall movement throughout the day have undoubtedly decreased now that many of us are working from home,” says Cameron Yuen, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy in New York, New York. “Brief stints on the couch can be a great relaxing break for your body, but couches were not ergonomically designed to be used for focused work. They have soft deep seats, causing you to take a very rounded flexed posture.”
So, what can be done to correct slouching and offset the effects of bad posture? That’s where the promise of posture correctors comes in—but, do they work?
“Posture correctors are, for the most part, wearable devices that provide a supportive and corrective structure to your posture in order to align your spine and, ideally, build mind-muscle pathways that help you maintain healthy posture and, as a result, avoid conditions that can arise from poor posture,” explains Gbolahan Okubadejo, MD, board-certified spinal and orthopedic surgeon in New York and New Jersey.
Here’s what you need to know about bad posture, the potential benefits and downsides of using posture correctors, and how to choose one best for you.
(Related: What Working from Home Does to Your Body)
Bad posture can misalign the spine
Bad posture while working at a desk can also misalign the spine, increasing stress on the knees, explains Dr. Okubadejo. “This becomes incredibly painful if someone already has arthritis,” he explains. “Sitting all day also prevents the body from getting the necessary circulation, leading to a condition called varicose or spider veins.”
The problem with poor ergonomic setups is the cumulative load and stress it puts on muscles and joints—it can wreak havoc on the body.
“This is bad news for our spine, as well as the rest of our joints, but it also has a negative effect on our cardiovascular and muscular systems,” says Yuen. “Poor setups lead to fatigue and overuse, and often this overuse stress is shifted to our joints and ligaments rather than our muscles.”
Translation: Long term, this can lead to stiff, inflamed joints, and tendons. “We often lose range of motion, as we spend so much time in one position,” explains Yuen. “This means less function when you get back to exercises like running or weight training.”
The types of posture correctors and how they work
Because people can have many different posture issues that fall into varying posture categories, there are different types of posture correctors.
“The different types of posture correctors include the common cross-back brace made with elastic or adjustable straps, the long line back brace, the lower back belt, which is often combined with straps that are placed over the shoulders and molded upper back braces,” says Dr. Okubadejo. “There are even electronic options that signal reminders to help patients develop greater consciousness about their slouching and sitting positions.”
There are female-specific options, too, explains Dr. Okubadejo. “While regular bras may not do much to support women, today, we do have posture correcting bras that offer ladies the support needed while they work out or even in their daily life to prevent slouching,” he says.
How long should you wear a posture corrector?
The amount of days and time that a posture corrector should be worn varies from person to person.
“This is a question that is best discussed with one’s spine doctor or chiropractor because the reasons for wearing a posture corrector can vary,” says Dr. Okubadejo.
“A patient may have mildly detrimental posture and is looking for a way to remember to maintain proper ergonomic alignment, or they may be suffering from annoying lower back pain and need to wear a corrector a bit longer to alleviate the stress on the lower back and learn to sit properly.”
In general, Dr. Okubadejo recommends that patients start wearing a posture corrector 15 to 30 minutes a day for three or four days a week, gradually increasing the days. “It is important for patients to continue being observant of their posture when they are not wearing their corrective device, so they have a grasp on their own progress.”
Downsides to posture correctors
While posture correctors can help put your spine in the correct position, they will not keep you there once you take them off—only your muscles can do that, explains Brian A. Cole, MD, American board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Englewood Spine Associates in Englewood, New Jersey.
“There are various products to wear to improve posture, but these only remind you of where your posture should be,” he says. “The best brace is your own physiologic brace, your muscles.” (The exception to this rule are corrective devices for adolescents developing spine conditions such as scoliosis, Sherman’s kyphosis, or postural kyphosis.)
“You may need to consult with a spine specialist to make the correct diagnosis and apply the appropriate treatment if your condition is worsening and you’re in constant discomfort or pain,” says Dr. Cole.
(Related: Tips on Proper Walking Posture)
Choosing the best posture corrector for you
The best preventive measure you can do for posture is to maintain your strength and flexibility, explains Dr. Cole. “This requires an effort of exercising,” he says.
“Most of us know how to do a sit-up. Exercise of the extensor muscles is just the opposite of a sit-up. This exercise is simple and only requires you to lie face down and try to raise your chest off the floor and hold it for several seconds.”
He adds: “The next time you are working on your abs, try to work out your back extensor muscles. A more pleasant way to do this is to do it on an exercise ball. You may have to get used to balancing your torso while doing it. We want to address this before arthritis sets in reducing your flexibility.”
You may also want to try a posture corrector to help remind you of the correct position you should be in while working from home—especially after months of a not-so-ergonomically perfect setup.
However, stop using the posture corrector if you find that it doesn’t appear to be working, your discomfort or pain is worsening, or it’s just becoming something you can’t ignore any longer.
It’s best that you speak with your doctor or a spine specialist to discuss your specific needs and options.