I am often asked by patients or friends: “what is the best posture?” or “how can I improve my posture?”. Unbeknownst to most askers, this question is not as straightforward as you may think. Many of us were drilled throughout childhood to improve our posture, don’t slouch, pretend there’s a bowl on your head, etc. In reality, the research paints a different picture. We now know through countless research studies that there is no “correct posture” and in fact, posture has not been shown to correlate with pain. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but those individuals typically fall several standard-deviations away from average.
The truth is, most people aren’t interested in posture just for posture’s sake. The question they are asking is not “how can I fix my posture?” but rather “will changing my posture fix my pain?”. This is the root of the issue for most people. If I were to ask most people if they would take rounded shoulders for a pain-free life, they would jump at the opportunity. If I were to ask most people if they cared more about not slouching or about not having pain when sitting on the couch, I think we all know which would be the more popular choice.
This is a relevant conversation for right now because most people are working from home and spending much more time on the couch than they are used to. This is resulting in increased neck pain, back pain, and overall achiness. But if we know that posture does not correlate with pain, then what is the problem? If me slouching on the couch or staring at my phone like a roly-poly for 18 hours a day is causing pain – why?
The answer comes down to perception and, perhaps surprisingly, Newton’s first law of motion. We need to understand what pain is, firstly. Without going into too much depth on pain science, pain is purely perception by the brain based on information received from your body. So, if your brain receives information it does not expect or in a different manner, you will often perceive that sensation as pain. Newton’s first law of motion states that a body in motions stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest. But how does this relate to posture and pain?
Let’s start with Newton first. If you are an active individual, and have been for years, and suddenly you are confined to your home and no longer going to work, training with your club, and going to the gym, your body is going to object to this. Remember that if you are in motion your body would prefer to stay in motion! If your activity level, even small things such as walking to and from your work building, decreases, your body will often start to ache and encourage you to move again.
The second part of the equation is pain perception. Imagine if your body is used to receiving consistent sensory input from exercise as X, but then your input changes or decreases significantly to become Y, your brain is not going to know how to perceive this and it may interpret it as pain. This is why staying in one position for a long time on the couch or at your desk begins to hurt – your body is expecting you to move and exercise, and it is trying to tell you to do so!
Now, I know these topics may be a bit abstract, so let’s get down to actionable steps to help alleviate some pain from “posture” or a change in activity level.
· If your activity and exercise level has changed significantly, try to get back to where you were prior. This can be as simple as going for a short walk around the house every 30-60 minutes during the day.
· If you find yourself stuck on the couch or at the counter for several hours at a time, set a timer on your phone or computer for 45 minutes and walk around or do some squats and stretches when it goes off.
· Remember there is no perfect posture – so keep changing your position! Stand, sit, lie on your stomach, pull a leg up onto a chair, stand with a barstool. The more variable, the better!
· Don’t forget to exercise, lift weights, mobilize with bands or foam roll or lacrosse ball to keep things loose and happy.
I hope this was helpful for you in the pursuit of perfect posture, or more likely, less pain and stiffness. If you need any additional help or have any specific questions, email me today!
Thanks for reading,