When you look in the mirror, are your shoulders stooped forward and hunched? Does your head lean forward?
If this description suits you, you probably have rounded shoulders.
Then, you probably do the following.
You do a bunch of Google searches and find some exercises to do at home to fix those troublesome shoulders.
You do all the wall angels and door stretches you can fit into your day. You build muscle to develop your back to properly support your posture and spine.
And then you find that, after all the effort, you still have rounded shoulders.
Why is this?
Many people see the problem of rounded shoulders as a mechanical, musculoskeletal issue. That’s not necessarily a bad way to approach it. If you don’t have the musculature to support your upper body, you’re not going to be able to stand up straight.
However, unless you have a particular health condition, most people already have this base muscle capacity.
The fact is that rounded shoulders are learned. Most people have them because of everyday habits, rather than physical deficiencies.
This blog will explain what those habits are, the nature of rounded shoulders and offer solutions to each cause.
What are rounded shoulders?
Rounded shoulders is a posture condition characterised by the forward inclination and hunching of an individual’s shoulders, and usually accompanied by the forward projection of the neck and head.
Want to see if you have rounded shoulders? Here’s a quick test.
Stand up straight and let your arms rest at your sides. If the palms of your hands face backwards, you probably have rounded shoulders. This is because, when your shoulders project forward, your arms turn inwards, forcing the hands to face another direction.
Other signs of rounded shoulders can include protraction, tilting, elevation or internal rotation of the shoulder blades.
What causes rounded shoulders?
There are some people who have rounded shoulders because of preexisting medical conditions. These could include:
Scoliosis: a sideways curvature of the spine Kyphosis: a forward curvature of the spine Spine or neck injuries, including whiplash Being overweight, which can pull your shoulders and upper back forward
The effects of rounded shoulders
Most people don’t like their rounded shoulders because they, well, don’t look that great. But how it looks should be the least of your worries.
Rounded shoulders can lead to a number of physical conditions, such as shoulder impingement syndrome, reduced lung capacity and forward head carriage, which puts massive amounts of weight and strain on your upper spine.
But rounded shoulders don’t just affect your body. When you have a poor or reduced posture, your body releases larger amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.
This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s very serious.
Hormones have a massive effect on how we feel on a day-to-day basis and can seriously affect our mental health.
If your shoulders are hunched, and your body language is closed, your brain will read this as a sign that you are under threat, and will release more cortisol into your system.
Higher levels of cortisol can put you at increased risk of depression, anxiety, low mood and more.
How people try to fix rounded shoulders
Ok, you might think, everyone knows that rounded shoulders aren’t great. What do I do about them?
This is the point where many people end up taking their eyes off the prize.
The average person looking for a solution might immediately reach for everyone’s best friend: Google.
When you search for how to fix your rounded shoulders on Google, you tend to get lists of exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles to get your shoulders back into the right position.
These are great suggestions, and you should try them out if you haven’t already.
However, the one thing that a lot of these articles don’t say is that people who have well-developed muscles can also have rounded shoulders.
In fact, developing your muscles could be part of the problem.
Many people, when building up muscles, focus on muscles that tend to push the shoulders forward from the extra weight, such as the pectorals and biceps, while not paying enough attention to the upper back muscles.
And even if you have the most well developed upper back and shoulder muscles, you can still develop rounded shoulders.
So, what’s the answer?
The true causes of rounded shoulders
The reason why most people have rounded shoulders is not necessarily because of muscle deficiencies. It comes mostly from habits that are learned and developed over long periods of time, mostly having to do with poor posture related to desk work and tech usage.
Fortunately, each of the following causes has an available solution.
Bad chair construction
Ever entered a public space, like an airport or a park, seen a bench, sat on it, only to have your back aching five minutes later?
We’ve all been there.
Most chairs indirectly force the body into slumping positions that many of us don’t want to adopt, which can lead to rounded shoulders.
This is bad enough, but many of us sit in chairs all day for our jobs. During these jobs, we are constantly leaning forward, encouraging our shoulders to project forward.
The best way to avoid adopting rounded shoulders when sitting is to sit up straight for as long as possible. You can do this by engaging your core, ensuring that you have the ability to hold your body upright.
Adjust your chair so that your legs hang down at 90-degree angles, with your feet touching the floor. You should also ensure that your chair has enough lumbar support to help you sit up straight.
Sitting for too long
Everyone knows that sitting for too long is bad for your health, but it can also have a horrible effect on your posture.
It’s always easier to maintain a great posture when you’re standing since when we’re standing we’re engaging our entire body. The strain put on our bodies by sitting puts pressure on our back and core that many of us can’t sustain, resulting in leaning and slouching.
If you’re sitting at a chair for hours on end, try getting up and walking around every 30 minutes or so. You’ll be amazed at what the occasional stroll can do for your posture.
Most of us spend our days in front of one screen or another. No matter what device we use, we tend to adopt a slouching or leaning posture in order to interface with it. This is called ‘tech neck’.
Need an example? Think of the posture someone takes when texting. You’re probably picturing someone standing, holding their phone at their diaphragm and their head hunched over almost perpendicular to their bodies.
When people adopt postures like this, the shoulders are thrust forward, contributing to rounded shoulders.
There are a lot of ways these slouching habits can be counteracted, though.
When using your mobile, try to hold it as high as possible in front of your face, ideally at eye level, so that you don’t have to lower your head to see the screen. Avoid holding tablets in your lap for the same reason. Use a stand that will keep your laptop or desktop monitor at eye level.
The generic setup for an office workspace might look something like this: a monitor in front, keyboard below it, mouse to the right or left. When done right, this can be fine. When not done right, it can exacerbate your rounded shoulders.
This is because many people tend to place their mouse outside of their normal reach, further away from their keyboard. Doing so can force them to reach for the mouse, lean forward and project the shoulders.
This is easily fixed by ensuring that your keyboard and mouse are within reach when your arms are hanging down naturally when sitting in a static, upright position.
As a general rule of thumb, your arms should hang down at your side at 90-degree angles when working at a keyboard, and your elbows shouldn’t have to move much when reaching for the mouse or keys.
Low foot arches
Feet are often neglected when talking about posture.
Your feet are designed in a particular way to hold your body up straight, but this design is often undermined by poor footwear.
Without proper arch support, feet tend to overpronate, meaning the arch sinks. This bends the legs in on themselves, affecting the knees, hips and lower back, leading to lower back pain.
Some good quality orthotics can help you get your feet back into the right shape, making it easier for you to maintain a correct posture and fix those rounded shoulders.
We all know how useful a backpack can be. Just chuck a whole lot of stuff in it and go out for the day.
Well, not so much.
Carrying a heavy backpack around with you can seriously throw your shoulders out of alignment. When you have a heavy load strapped to your back, you tend to hunch forward in order to redistribute the weight. This is a particular problem among schoolchildren, who carry disproportionately large backpacks around. And of course, when you hunch forward, rounded shoulders are just around the corner.
To minimise the impact of using your backpack, take out all unnecessary objects, shorten the straps and make sure the sack is flush against your back.
Getting rid of rounded shoulders requires a holistic, long-term approach that involves more than doing a few exercises. Focus more on ridding your workspaces of bad kit and improving your posture.