If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, driving, or slouching, especially at the computer – you may feel that your poor posture is probably in need of some correction, especially if you are experiencing lower back pain or neck pain!
And you are partially correct! Interestingly, however, there are some other important factors to consider. In fact, this article won’t try to convince you that there is a perfect posture and that if you just achieved it all of your pain and worries would go away; because there isn’t a perfect posture. My aim is to instead teach you the secrets of posture that most people aren’t aware of.
To reference the Matrix, will you take the red pill and continue reading to uncover an uncomfortable life-changing truth; or will you take the blue pill, hit the back button, and remain in blissful ignorance?
Allow me to take you on a journey of postural awakening!
Before we get started I would like to emphasise – you are not out of alignment, your spine is strong and resilient. This is a myth perpetuated by charlatans of the healthcare industry through non-specific postural assessment.
I’m glad we got that out of the way!
When you get lower back pain or neck pain from a long day of work or driving, where does your mind go? Is your first thought to ask yourself, “How was my posture today? What did I do wrong? Why does my lower back pain make me feel like I just turned 73?”
You are not alone. Our first instinct is typically to question our most recent physical actions and this definitely has merit. In fact, if I were a betting man I would put the farm on that there was something different that happened; maybe you spent twice as long at the computer, you drove six hours when you normally travel less or you were standing in the same position for an event, way longer than you normally would!
So far we’re all on the same page. The next step is where we need to alter our perception.
Typically we would then reflect on the so-called poor posture we were in and place all of the blame on this. If only you hadn’t slouched, right? Life would be great right now, there would be no pain!
This is only one piece of the puzzle however; and most likely one of the smaller pieces.
One of the most important pieces of this puzzle to consider is the principle of loading. Our body responds incredibly well to gradual increase of load over time, and with this gradual increase of load it can withstand extreme forces without pain or breaking down.
A brilliant analogy is muscle growth – Imagine for a second a muscle. Muscles in your body grow in adaptation to a gradual increase in load (weight) and muscle tension over a period of time, which allows them to successfully tolerate much higher amounts of load in the future without pain or damage (and less muscle fatigue). For example, when you first started lifting weights you may have been able to bench press 50kgs and now you can lift 100kgs; If at the start of your journey you attempted to lift the 100kgs you would most likely have injured yourself and ended up in pain. Keep in mind that even though your body has adapted to be strong in the bench press, this doesn’t mean that your body has improved its capacity to squat more weight. Our body adapts to the progressive overload of stress that we place on it, postural pain is much the same!
Now apply this same thought process to your pain from poor posture…
Was it the position that you were in? Or could it have been more so the fact that you increased the load significantly compared to what you would normally do? Could it have been the 6 hours of sitting, rather than the position you were sitting in? I hope you are starting to see that the increase in the load is more important than the correct posture – this is also the part where many perfect posture zealots start to feel rather uncomfortable!
Consider this, how come sometimes you can sit in the most ridiculous position on the couch for an hour watching a movie and be completely pain free, yet when you sit bolt upright attempting to have the perfect posture you feel sore and uncomfortable after only 10 minutes.
What is happening here?
Load and adaptation, my friends!
Just like in our bench press analogy – our body adapts to the stress and load that we place on it. What this means is that there is no perfect posture, because our body will adapt to be strong and pain free in the postures that we spend the most time in, the ones we gradually increase over time and most commonly, posture-related pain can be retraced back to spending more time than usual in postures that your body has not adapted to.
Now I understand that you can’t prepare for an unusually long car ride by slowly adapting your body to the stress in the months leading up to it, that would be borderline ridiculous to expect! However, what we can do instead is to change your postural alignment frequently in order to prevent extended amounts of stress without rest on your body. So what may this look like? It could be stopping every hour that you drive cross country to have a 5-minute walk, stretch your legs and get some fresh air. You won’t believe the difference this can make! So much more than any perfect posture fable ever could!
So before we finish up, I thought it would be best to address a few of the most common questions we as physiotherapists commonly get asked about correct posture.
Why is poor posture bad for you?
To be honest, “bad posture” really isn’t bad for you. As we’ve touched on previously, spending more time than usual in one posture or being in postures that your body hasn’t adapted to can cause you to feel pain – even if that proper posture is what many would perceive to be an ideal posture! This is entirely the reason why posture correction exercises can help to change your posture over time, simply because we load your body in a progressive manner over time to develop a different set of postural habits.
Are there bad posture types?
No, not really. There are types of posture that we could classify people as falling in to based on how they look aesthetically, and these are:
- Flat back
- Sway back
- Forward head (cervical spine anterior translation)
- Rounded shoulders posture (protracted shoulder blades)
- “ideal posture”
But when we look at the literature, there is no strong evidence to support that any particular posture is more correlated to pain than any other, including the “ideal posture”, which leads us to believe that that we place too much importance on achieving better posture or optimal posture when in fact our natural position may be perfect for us; meaning our posture correction exercises to create ‘better’ habits may be a distracting waste of time.
How to stop slouching
I wouldn’t recommend stopping slouching completely! If you find it comfortable to slouch and your body has adapted to be strong and resilient in this position, then by all means slouch! Do keep in mind earlier when we emphasised earlier the importance of changing your stance and not staying in any one place for a period of time that your body has not yet adapted to.
Do posture correctors work?
Unfortunately posture correctors are good at only one thing…and that is to waste your money.
Whether it is for a standing posture, or sitting, your body is strong and resilient, it can adapt to the demands that you place on it if you work on this over time. Save your money!
What are the benefits of good posture?
A good posture is more aesthetically pleasing than bad posture! That is most likely the number one benefit of great posture.
The challenge in answering this question broadly is that “good posture” should be defined as the posture that is most comfortable for you and that your body has adapted over time to be strong in. There is limited to no evidence that shows changing to a new rigid posture will help alleviate shoulder pain, joint stiffness, lumbar spine tightness or muscle imbalance in general.
We need to get rid of the notion that there is an ideal posture that will prevent pain. Unfortunately, until we do this we will continuously be stuck chasing a fantasy that is for many unachievable and likely detrimental to pain relief.
How can physiotherapists help with restoring posture?
Posture physiotherapy should simply be improving muscle strength and loading your postural muscles to withstand the demands of your daily life.
If someone has changed their posture due to pain or injury, physiotherapists can assist in pain relief and rehabilitation which, once achieved, will allow you to return to your natural posture. Our aim is not to give you an entirely new posture, but simply to allow you to feel great in the posture that you feel most comfortable in naturally, whilst educating you about the importance of changing your posture throughout the day.
As corny as it may sound – your next posture is your best posture!
Can a physio fix bad posture?
Physiotherapy can help you to find what your ideal natural posture is and to help you to feel comfortable and strong in this posture. You may want to have a certain posture for aesthetic reasons, and that is completely up to you – we can help you to work on your muscle balance and achieve this ideal posture through strengthening your postural muscles with specific exercises.
I hope we have sufficiently challenged the way you view posture and that you now feel more empowered with the knowledge that there is no ideal posture; and that you don’t need to waste your money on posture corrector scams!