Posture correctors are external devices used to help improve posture by addressing muscle imbalances that occur when a person spends long periods of time in a slouched position. “[Posture correctors] take stress off the muscles being overworked. They’re passive modalities,” says Jaspal Ricky Singh, M.D., vice chair and associate professor in the department of rehabilitation medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City and a Forbes Health Advisory Board member. “If the trapezius (muscles that cover the back of the neck and upper chest) are overstretched because of gravity and the pectorals (chest) are pulling the shoulders forward, posture correctors correct that.”
Posture correctors, however, have mixed reviews across the medical and fitness fields. Sabrena Jo, M.S., senior director of science and research at the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and a Forbes Health Advisory Board member says her first reaction to correcting posture is to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine.
“The term ‘corrective’ makes it seem like there’s something wrong with you,” she says. “We learn about perfect or ideal posture, but the reality is no one has that, and we all have curvature and deviations. Some people have pain and problems with it, and some don’t.” Instead of trying to put a device on someone who isn’t experiencing pain or issues, but may not have perfect looking posture, Jo says she would try a different approach.
“It’s your muscles that respond to the nervous system—that external device has no feedback about your nervous system,” she says. “The device could just start ignoring those signals to muscles and joints.”
The nervous system uses an intricate network of subtle adjustments to the joints throughout the day, Jo says. Whether you’re picking up a pencil or a toddler, reflexes are running in the background that help accomplish these tasks, and each of those reflexes are part of a system that makes the muscles contract and support the joint. Restricting or immobilizing those reflexes may prevent the nervous system from functioning in a natural way and dampen those signals, Jo adds.
What experts can agree on is speaking with your doctor, physical therapist or spine specialist before making the decision to purchase a posture correcting device.
Types of Posture Correctors
Posture correctors come in different forms, and knowing which type will best benefit your body is important for achieving healthy results.
Figure-8 Posture Correctors
Figure-8 posture correctors are braces with two elasticated or fabric straps that loop around each shoulder and connect across the upper shoulder blades on the back. In some cases, this brace style includes a strap that can be fastened across the abdomen for added support. These braces are typically recommended to alleviate neck and shoulder slouching and to prevent injuries that can occur from chronic poor posture.
These posture correctors can give real time feedback on posture, says Dr. Singh, adding that it takes the pressure off your upper back muscles.
In a 2020 study in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, figure-8 posture correctors were used on dental hygienists to determine their effectiveness in preventing poor posture throughout the workday. Dental hygienists who wore the figure-8 braces while working had extended upper and lower back areas and better posture while sitting, but increased internal rotation as well.
Patients should expect to feel immediate results when wearing a figure-8 posture corrector, says Dr. Singh, as the upper back and trapezius muscles may feel relaxed. The neck, however, may experience some tension, he adds.
“The challenge is when they take it off, how soon symptoms reoccur,” says Dr. Singh.“Passive muscles will forget.”
Wearable devices for posture correcting are small, electronic devices that are most commonly placed between the shoulders in the middle of the upper back and stick to skin or clothing using magnets or adhesive tape. These devices contain sensors that detect when your spine begins to curve and provide live feedback in the form of a vibration to alert the user of poor posture. Some wearable devices also come in the form of a necklace and vibrate when the sensors detect curvature in the chest. Most wearable devices sync with a smartphone, allowing users to track their daily posture measurements, patterns and data.
“I don’t mind these for long-term use—there’s nothing passive going on,” says Dr. Singh. “Now you have no choice but to actively engage those muscles. You’re getting real-time feedback.”
Studies show wearable devices to be helpful in making users aware of their day-to-day posture, but more research is needed to prove long-term effectiveness.