Can Bad Posture Cause Stomach Pain?

by | Mar 29, 2024 | Physical Therapy

Have you ever experienced stomach pain seemingly out of the blue? Perhaps you’ve been dealing with digestive issues that won’t go away, leaving you feeling uncomfortable and frustrated. While there can be various reasons behind abdominal discomfort, one factor often overlooked is posture. Surprisingly, the way you sit, stand, and move throughout the day can significantly impact your digestive system. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the question, “Can bad posture cause stomach pain?” and shed light on how simple adjustments to posture can alleviate discomfort and promote better digestive health.

How Does Posture Affect Your Abdomen?

Research suggests poor posture can lead to various health issues beyond neck and back pain. When you slouch or sit for long periods with improper posture, your abdominal and chest organs, including your digestive tract, can become compressed. This compression can impede the normal function of your digestive system, causing symptoms such as heartburn, slow digestion, constipation, and even nutritional deficiencies. Furthermore, when your digestive tract is cramped, it slows down your metabolism, making it harder for your body to process food efficiently. It is essential to understand that your stomach and parts of the colon or large intestine are physically located at the base of the breastbone. Your transverse colon extends horizontally from the right side of the rib cage to the left side, passing just below the end of the breastbone.

Think about it like this: standing up straight creates more space in your abdominal cavity, allowing your organs to function optimally. But when you sit, do you still have that space? Or are you slouched or hunched over? If so, you’re squishing your digestive organs, which can lead to discomfort and digestive disturbances over time. It’s no wonder that many office workers experience abdominal or back pain and gastrointestinal issues because of prolonged sitting with poor postural alignment.

5 Tips to Avoid Stressing Your Digestive System

Now that we understand how posture can affect our digestive system, let’s explore some practical tips to improve posture and alleviate stomach pain:

  • Have a regular movement routine

You can engage in many routines, but the one that matters the most is the one you are willing to do on a constant basis. Regular physical activity benefits your overall health and promotes better digestion. Exercise and adequate water and fiber, helps to reduce constipation and keeps your digestive system running smoothly. The simplest of routines is walking after meals, whether outside or within the home. Find activities that you enjoy and incorporate them into your daily routine.

  • Stress and Overeating? More common than you think!

The unconscious habit of hand-to-mouth eating is essential to examine. We all do or have done it. It can wreak havoc on our digestive system, leading to symptoms like bloating, gas, reflux (or worse GERD), and abdominal or back pain. We often use overeating as a solution or a salve when we feel overwhelmed with feelings we don’t know how to process. Over time, our brain learns how to link or associate the feelings that accompany stress with overeating. So, it is vital to have other options. Try incorporating stress-reducing activities into your daily life, such as meditation, deep, slow breathing exercises, or spending time outdoors. Explore therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Somatic Therapy. As you experience more conscious choices for managing stress effectively, you help your digestive system function more efficiently.

  • Check the line: The Breastbone—Belly Button Line 

Improving your posture is more than just a command to sit up straight. It’s about understanding your body’s alignment, like a puzzle you’re solving. Here’s a simple method to assess and adjust your posture. Imagine a line drawn from the end of your breastbone to your belly button. Ideally, you should be able to place the width of both hands along this line without any overlap. It’s like fitting a glove to your body. Try it now. Do they fit? Did you have to “sit up a little taller” to fit both hands? 

Sitting position: Place the little finger of your left hand at the level of the belly button. Rest the palm of the left hand on your abdomen. The fingers of the left hand are pointed to the right and resting on the abdomen. Place the little finger of your right hand next to the thumb of your left hand. Rest the palm of the right hand on your abdomen. The fingers of the right are pointed to the left and resting on the abdomen. The thumb of the right hand will be level with the end of the breastbone.

When your pelvis and spine are well aligned, the width of both hands will stack or fit in the space between the breastbone and the belly button without overlapping the fingers. “Checking the line” and improving the length of the line when sitting allows our digestive organs to be less cramped. 

Pay attention to how you sit and stand throughout the day. Place your hands on your abdomen and check the length of the line often. Do both hands fit? If not, try one or more of these adjustments. 

  • Sit the pelvis of the buttock further back into the chair seat. 
  • Allow the back of your trunk to feel the support of the chairback. 
  • Place your feet flat on the floor. 
  • Using the pelvic sit-bones as a reference, rock the pelvis a little forward and backward, noticing how this influences the lifting of the breastbone hand away from the belly button hand. Find your best pelvic position or stack that allows the breastbone-belly button line to be at a “length” that supports the width of both hands without any overlapping of the fingers or hands.
  • Use ergonomic equipment

Use ergonomic chairs and supportive cushions behind the back, under the pelvis, or under the feet to maintain good posture, especially during long periods of sitting. Creating a more ergonomic workspace can prevent postural problems and support better digestion. Invest in ergonomic equipment to support good posture when working from home or in an office. 

  • Consider using a standing desk or a desk converter to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. 
  • Use monitor mounts to adjust the height and angle of your computer screen, reducing strain on your neck and shoulders. 
  • When sitting, allow the ergonomic adjustments to support your ability to have the proper breastbone–belly button line length. 
  • Take a Breath Check…often!

Often, we associate our breathing with our lungs expanding outward—sucking air in, and then lungs contracting or collapsing inward—squeezing air back out into the room. This is a process that is repeated about 12 -17 times a minute when we are sitting and resting. However, the expansion of the lungs is made possible by the automatic action of a large circular muscle situated horizontally at the end of the breastbone and attached to the interior surface of our ribs, spine, and breastbone. This muscle is called the respiratory diaphragm. 

The respiratory diaphragm separates the organs within the chest cavity from the organs in the abdominal cavity. So, the stomach, small intestines, large intestine or colon, and pancreas live in the cavity below the diaphragm. Above this muscle lies the liver, gallbladder, lungs, and heart.

The action of breathing in and out is much like an adult jumping on a “trampoline.” As we inhale, the diaphragm moves downward in the direction toward the pelvic sit bones, pushing the abdominal organs below it a little downward toward the pelvic floor. This downward action also creates space for the chest cavity organs above the diaphragm to move downward. Our lungs can now expand outward in all directions. 

As the diaphragm muscle releases its contraction, we exhale. The “trampoline” returns to its resting state, lifting or upward moving the abdominal and chest cavity organs. 

However, there is one “organ” or “long tube” that connects bridges between these two cavities. Beginning at the back of the mouth, this tube, or esophagus, carries food and liquid to the stomach. The esophagus is the only “organ” that passes through a unique hole in the diaphragm. Below the diaphragm, the esophagus takes on a new name and becomes the opening to the stomach. Research shows that one-third of the population worldwide experiences problems in this area of transition. Diagnostically, it is called GERD or Reflux, but most people refer to it as “heartburn.” Over 15 million people in the US take either prescription or over-the-counter medication for the regurgitation of their stomach contents into the esophagus or sometimes even back into the mouth.  

When you lose the length of the Breastbone-Belly Button Line because of habitual slouching and postural changes, you alter movement possibilities of the abdominal and chest cavity organs. Postural changes impact the quality of respiratory diaphragm movement and its trampoline action. Changes in how we breathe, in turn, can impact tissues around and within the esophagus as it enters the stomach. The sphincter, or door-like structure that keeps food and liquid from the stomach regurgitating into the esophagus, is disabled. 

So, it is important to check your posture often while sitting—whether you are scrolling on your phone, watching TV, or working at your desk on the computer. 

  • Place your hands on the Breastbone—Belly Button Line. Do they fit without any overlap?’
  • Try this type of breathing for three cycles: Breathe in slowly, long, and low. Allow the hand nearest to the belly button to rise a little more than the hand near the end of the breastbone. 
  • Breathing out, consciously pull the abdomen under the hand near the belly button. Your abdominal muscles will assist. Observe how this hand sinks inward compared to the top hand near the breastbone. This conscious exhale helps restore the skeletal alignment of the ribs and the trunk. Better alignment in this area means better quality or action of the respiratory diaphragm. Better alignment creates more interior space and internal movement, which means better possibilities for organ and tissue health.

If you’re experiencing digestive issues due to rib, pelvic, or spinal posture changes, don’t let it hold you back. Seeking assistance from a somatic-trained professional can be the key to finding your best “posture” and enhancing your quality of life.