“Sit up straight!” the expression that rings through many primary school classrooms and across the family dinner table.
It seems today that everyone is under the impression that they should correct their posture, when in reality this can lead to neck pain, headaches and lower back pain. The big question is, is it necessary? Is there really one perfect ‘one size fits all’ posture? Can backaches and pains be traced to poor posture in the first place? Is it possible to improve posture?
Truth is that the movements and positions we ourselves have adopted in the way we sit and stand are among the strongest of habits and so changing your posture may be just as difficult as giving up smoking (or chocolate).
Myth #1 Good posture means chest out and shoulders back
This way of approaching posture is probably the most wide spread misconception and only really creates back muscle tension and is certainly not sustainable for long periods of time. Think about it, when someone tells you to stand up straight and put your shoulders back, how long do you last in that position? 2 seconds? 5 minutes? This is because your body has adapted to a position and trust me it’s not going to change over-night. In a daily context, by pushing out your chest and pulling your shoulders back, you’ll soon find yourself slouching right back to where you started. Good posture requires dynamic and fluid movements, not a deliberate holding in place.
Myth #2 Good posture is hard to achieve and maintain
Ever noticed how a small child stands or sits? They move around a lot, they wiggle they fidget and their posture while their sitting or standing is fluid. This is certainly due to the fact they are younger and therefore have much more energy but also because it takes more effort to remain static. In the same instance, adult posture does not take more effort, in fact it takes less and you don’t have to work hard to maintain it, so why push it?
Myth #3 Good posture means never slumping
If you can sit there and say that you’ve never flexed into a forward slump then you’ve simply never experienced your body’s full range of motion. Usually we get into a slump posture when our muscles are tired. Of course a constant hunched position is going to be bad if stuck there for long periods, however, it’s also not good to avoid slumping when your muscles are tired. The key to good posture is to stay in a neutral position, at a comfortable height, although remember that it’s not a rigidly straight posture as that’s neither natural nor realistic.
So what exactly is ‘poor posture’?
To put it simply, poor posture is awkward posture. For example, leaning over a bench for hours on end when it’s visibly too low – while it’s not always particularly avoidable these are postures we need to reduce. On the other side of the scale we have postural laziness and this is what most people picture when they think of poor posture. By completely ignoring your postural position over time this will lead to poor postural fitness meaning eventually you’ll have trouble coping with positioning and correction when you need to down the track.
Does posture really matter?
In today’s day and age, it’s evident that most people naturally avoid unproductive responses to significant postural changes and this is because we are allergic to both strain and pain. Although there is this perception around postural laziness and it’s stigma of being evil, people naturally tend to keep up their postural fitness for themselves and the things they care about. So the ‘problem’ of poor posture is generally minor as the worst problems are avoided naturally without you even realising. There is a clear difference between postural strain and poor posture. For example, carrying a heavy backpack slung over one shoulder is postural strain and this in some circumstances makes it difficult to maintain what we think of as good posture. The thing is that much of this “poor posture” is just awkwardly coping with a postural strain.
In reality, posture is only one of the many hypothetical factors that contribute to pain problems, and in many cases probably isn’t contributing at all. There are a lot of people with perfectly good posture in a terrible amount of pain, and also many people with terrible posture without pain.
What is good posture?
The answer to this is quite frustrating because in reality, ‘good posture’ depends on the person and is essentially impossible to measure its success. Good posture is one that is dynamic and emphasising change. Keeping active and constantly changing our posture and experimenting with new ways of moving are good responses to the uncertainties of posture. Most people lead very sedentary lives, and it’s these people who are often only active in one way that need variety in their movement – not into a particular position but more positions.
“Your best posture is your next posture” – Morgan Freeman
In conclusion, I’m not saying that we/you/I shouldn’t care about posture. Rather, we might just be placing too much importance on the ideal posture. General thinking goes, if we don’t fall exactly in the spectrum of the perfect posture then we feel we are in dire need of fixing. Lehman sums it all up in one simple sentence: “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what posture you’re in, it’s going to hurt and it feels better to do something else. Maybe it’s the lack of movements that’s the bigger problem.”
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Greenwood, V. (2016). The Problem with Perfect Posture. Scientific American Mind, 27(2), pp.15-15.
YouTube. (2018). Perfect posture doesn’t exist. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnLxcEMdjVk [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
Ljutow, A. (2009). 460 DO PATIENTS WITH LOW BACK PAIN PRESENT AN ALTERED BODY POSTURE?. European Journal of Pain, 13, p.S138.
Raynor, C. (2018). The Top 5 Myths about “Good Posture” On & Off the Mat – Debunked!. [online] Off The Mat Yoga. Available at: https://offthematyogablog.com/2015/05/08/the-top-5-myths-about-good-posture-on-off-the-mat-debunked/