“My posture is horrible“. It’s a common refrain from patients who are also thinking: – my bad posture is the reason I hurt. Myths like that are common, even among physical therapists.
While many of us blame poor posture for our pain, research says NO. Yes, posture matters, but in ways that will surprise you.
Here’s what we know about posture, based on research:
- There is no single “correct ” posture. We can’t all look like Barbie or Ken dolls and even if we did, it wouldn’t prevent back pain.
- Differences in postures are a fact of life. Though you may not want to look just like your mom or dad, chances are you inherited those same spinal curves. Variations in spinal curves are normal and no single spinal curve is strongly associated with pain.
- It’s safe to adopt comfortable postures. Exploring different postures, including those you’ve been told to avoid, may make you feel better. So, if you’ve purchased a big lumbar pillow to help you keep the arch in your back, take it out and see how you feel. Frequently changing postures is often the key to comfort.
- The spine is a robust, adaptable structure capable of safely bending and twisting. Go ahead, pull out your old twister game and have some fun.
So why do we even care about posture? When does it matter?
FUNCTION:Take a look at how posture can affect normal shoulder and neck movement. If you perpetually stress your shoulder to reach into a tall cupboard, changing your posture might make it easier to look over your shoulder when changing lanes, or to reach that big bowl you’ve stored on the top shelf of the cupboard.
BREATHING: Diaphragmatic breathing decreases stress, and inflammation, which can alter pain. And posture changes the way you breathe. See here.
MOOD: Your brain gets a constant barrage of information from your body. When we feel down, we often slouch, or slump as a result of the mood. Or do we? What comes first, the physical slump or the mental slump? We don’t know, but we do know they are related.
Research on healthy subjects has shown the clear connection between more upright posture and a brighter mood. And that effect extends to people who are clinically depressed. A group of subjects with measurable depression were taped into an upright posture. Their response to a stressful task was compared to those of a control group of clinically depressed subjects who slouched. The depressed subjects with good posture performed better and with more confidence in two stressful situations compared with control subjects.
There are other studies to demonstrate that you can change your mood if you can modify your posture and that even changing posture temporarily will increase happy hormones within minutes.
Bottom line, small changes in posture can make it easier to move, easier to breath, and even easier to feel upbeat and confident.
Posture is not the cause of your pain. Constantly worrying about how you stand, sit or bend will not help, and may even delay your recovery. We have some good news though. ALTA Physical Therapists can help you understand what matters in the ways you move, sit, stand or rest. Call to schedule an appointment today. We are here to help.