More than half of the population experience heartburn on a regular basis. Twenty to thirty percent will experience it weekly. The most common advice is to change your eating habits and take medication such as OTC antacid tablets, proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s), or H2 Blockers. This may not be the best way to deal with this issue. Check your posture. In this article I will explain how to improve your posture to improve your GERD symptoms.
Surprisingly your posture has a huge impact on whether you will have GERD symptoms or not. Maintaining good posture while you are eating and for a few hours after eating can reduce symptoms drastically. I've found that if I start feeling heartburn coming on I can relieve it within a few minutes just by straightening my posture.
In our advanced society where many people work at a computer daily and almost everyone has a smartphone or tablet, the incidence of forward head posture is on the rise. Bad posture changes the normal positions of our body and can disrupt the normal function of our vital organs.
This hunched over posture changes the position and orientation of our organs, especially the esophagus and its relationship to the stomach. This postural change can put the opening of the stomach either at the same level or slightly higher than the lower esophageal sphincter making it difficult to stop stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus.
I’m a researcher, and as part of my job, I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk slouched in front of a computer. Then I go home after work and spend a few more hours slouched in front of my home computer. Then I slouch on the couch for another few hours watching TV.
As a result, I have very bad posture and what is called forward head posture (FHP). Other not so nice names for this are "Scholar's Neck," "Wearsie Neck," "iHunch" or "Reading Neck.
I have been doing this for over 25 years. As a direct result, my posture while using a computer is horrid. Even though I work out at the gym for an hour, 5 days a week, it does not counteract this problem.
I also suffer from acid reflux; in fact, I have full on GERD. But I’m not so sure I can say this anymore. Over the past few years, I have been learning more and more about how to fix acid reflux. Instead, I can now say that I have not had anything more than mild heartburn maybe three times in the last 8 months. Believe it or not, I have not changed my eating or drinking habits. I still drink alcohol, eat spicy foods, pizza, fried foods, greasy hamburgers; basically, whatever I want.
The biggest breakthrough for me was coming to terms with the fact that Acid Reflux is not caused by too much stomach acid. It is caused by not having enough!
Once I finally believed this, and then did something about it, my symptoms have disappeared. I have not taken any acid reflux medication whatsoever since August 2015.
Fixing my posture was the final piece of the puzzle.
I did these 4 things to cure my Acid Reflux:
After having Acid Reflux/GERD most of my life I rarely experience any symptoms anymore.
A slouched posture can restrict the passage between the stomach and the esophagus, causing the muscles of the esophagus to go into a spasm causing the LES to gape open enough to allow the escape of stomach contents into the esophagus, causing acid reflux symptoms. This simulates a hiatal hernia. (Add link to hiatal hernia article)
Over the past 8 months, I’ve tried to be more conscious of my posture especially while eating and after eating. I make sure my shoulders are back and down and that my head is as aligned as possible directly over my shoulder, not out in front of them (FHP). If that is too much to think about you may find it easier to just keep your solar plexus at a right angle to the floor.
If I feel heartburn coming on I immediately correct my posture and the feeling goes away almost immediately
It would be fantastic if I could maintain a proper, upright posture all the time but I’ve been like this for years, and it would probably take years to correct it. It probably will never happen. But I can maintain it at least while I am eating and for a period after. I feel it is important for avoiding GERD symptoms.
An upright position allows gas to pass up through the esophagus and release the pressure exerted by the stomach on the LES. It’s important to have a body position that minimizes the pressure a bloated stomach places on the LES and putting the esophagus at the correct angle, so as to allow easy passage of food on the way into the stomach and easy passage of gas on the way out.
In addition, a “straight” position allows gravity to more easily aid the LES and keep stomach acid where it belongs.
The image on the left shows poor posture while standing. In this position, the esophagus is in a disadvantaged position in comparison to the opening of the stomach. The esophagus is twisted in this position causing the LES to be forced partially open. This causes stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus as pressure builds up in the stomach.
The image on the right shows correct standing posture in which the esophagus will be at right angles to the ground, allowing the LES to do its job which is to keep the stomach contents where they belong.
To maintain proper standing posture:
The image on the left shows poor sitting posture. The forward lean of the chest, shoulders, and head puts the esophagus in a disadvantaged position, twisting the esophagus causing the LES to be forced partially open increasing the chances that stomach contents will be more easily forced back up into the esophagus.
The image on the right shows the correct posture while in a sitting position. This position minimizes pressure on the LES and keeps the esophagus perpendicular to the ground.
To maintain proper sitting posture:
At your next meal try to sit for the entire meal without resting you’re back against the back of the chair. Sit up straight, arch your back slightly, with your shoulders back and down, and without leaning against the back of the chair. If you cannot do this for 30 minutes, your posture is likely affecting your digestive process and causing acid reflux symptoms (heartburn).
The best sleeping position is on your left side. In this position, the LES is naturally higher than the opening to the stomach allowing gravity to help the LES contain stomach acids while lying. Sleeping on your left side puts the LES in an advantaged position, making it easier for the LES and gravity to keep the contents of the stomach from refluxing into the esophagus.
Sleeping on your right side puts the opening to the stomach above the LES so that it is constantly fighting to stay closed. Eventually, the muscles of the LES will tire and allow the stomach contents to flow into the esophagus.
Sleeping on your back puts the LES and opening to the stomach on the same level. The least bit of stomach pressure from bloating will easily push stomach contents into the esophagus.
Raising the head of the bed by 10 to 15 degrees will allow you to sleep on either side as well as your back. Just place some blocks under the head of the bed to raise it to the proper level. Be careful though as this may damage your bed.
If this is not possible, bed wedges are a simple, cost-effective solution to properly raise the body to advantageous position for sleeping.
Never sleep on your stomach.
One thing to be aware of: If you sleep on your left side all the time you will get tight hip flexors (psoas muscle). Tight hip flexors cause the release of cortisol. Excess cortisol affects your sleep - you may fall asleep easily but will awaken every few hours. This is from the excess cortisol. Here is a YouTube video you may find helpful: 7 Best Hip Flexor Stretches to Decrease Pain & For People Who Sit All Day
There are a number of ways to correct your posture. It will take a great deal of time and effort but can be done. You will not be able to do this by conscious effort because as soon as your mind starts thinking about something else you will go back to old habits.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into enough detail to instruct you how to do this successfully improve your posture.
I would recommend going to see a good physiotherapist who can tailor the exercises to your exact needs.
There are some devices on the market that can help, but I feel that visiting a good physiotherapist is the best choice. If you would like to see some of the devices for improving posture here are few that I have tried with limited success:
This is a Toronto based company. The shirts have crisscrossing supports that go across the back and then around the shoulders to hold them in the proper position. You can wear them as is, to the gym or under your regular clothing.
The shirts were created by a University of Toronto Kinesiology graduate. I have no affiliation with this company. They are fairly expensive at $120 for a t-shirt and $100 for a tanks top. Same prices for ladies; and they have a Posture Bra for $70.
I bought this from Indiegogo. It is fairly cheap at $49. Honestly, I have never given this a reasonable amount of time, only wearing it a few times. You are supposed to wear it daily, starting at 20 minutes and gradually increasing to a few hours per day.
It is a small round contraption that you tape to your upper chest by your collarbone. It vibrates if you slouch for more than 1 minute reminding you to straighten up. The literature says that after just three weeks your muscles will naturally maintain good posture standing and sitting.
I have found that just correcting your posture when you feel heartburn symptoms coming on will most times fix the problem almost immediately.
If you have bad posture, this may have a dramatic effect on you as well. Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!
The information contained here does not constitute medical advice and is not meant to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure disease. Please contact your doctor. The information provided is for informational purposes only and are solely the views of the author.
Here is a short YouTube video from Dr. Mandell on proper standing posture:
Here is a short YouTube video from Dr. Mandell on proper sitting posture:
Infant Acid Reflux: What is it and How to Resolve it for My Baby?
5 Helpful Tips to Enjoy GERD Free Travel
Why You Need to Stop Treating Your Heartburn Symptoms
How to Safely Increase Stomach Acid Naturally
How to Determine If You Have Hypochlorhydria
Everything You Need to Know About Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and GERD
How to Relieve and Manage Heartburn During Pregnancy
How to Relieve Heartburn 10 Ways