When we think about posture we could really do ourselves a favour and stop thinking about what is good or bad posture in terms of black and white, what is right or wrong, what can or cannot be changed as it is such a dynamic ever changing thing since even at rest we are rarely still. Another area that needs to be redressed is the idea that specific postures relate to any back and neck pain that people might suffer from. As a therapist I have to admit to being as guilty as anybody of looking it in these terms in the past but current research, such as this paper, shows us that this not the case.
When we see someone slumped over their desk or in an otherwise “compromised” position it looks like it would make sense to say it would cause them pain or be in some way bad for them. Yet these postures don’t really relate well to pain and there aren’t any studies that show that sitting slumped over your computer is the cause of your pain, you can check out these references that Todd Hargrove in this post has put together in this post, Five misconceptions about posture. Yet if we look at the likes of job satisfaction and stress levels we see two areas amongst others that definitely relate well to peoples perception of pain
An important point that needs to be considered is that our tissues can and will adapt to the stresses we place upon them and this includes adapting to the postures we assume during our working day. This doesn’t mean that you want to be sitting at your desk for long periods if you can help it but that there is no need to catastrophise the postures that we often assume when we are sitting there. The loads placed on the tissues when sitting at a desk or reading something on your phone really aren’t that demanding, and load is everything when we are thinking of tissue damage. There is no need to be in a state of high alert fearing that we slip into “bad” posture or that we are doing lasting damge to ourselves. If you can break up your day a little then great but don’t be overly concerned if you can’t. One thing that you can do even at you desk if you feel yourself getting a bit achy is to do some simple movements such as stretching above your head, bending side to side and front to back or twisting left and right. All of these will provide enough movement, when done regularly, to banish a lot of the feeling of stiffness etc that you can experience when stuck at your desk for long periods. This is because some of what you are feeling is change in the pH of the tissues causing irritation and generally reminding you that you haven’t moved much for a while.
Ben Cormack of Cor-Kinetic puts it well with regards to the relationship between posture and pain;
“Imagine for a second you had pain. It may make you feel depressed, you may have slept badly, you may be worried about the implications of the pain on your ability to work or the future of your health. This all may play out in the way you hold yourself.
The take home here is your posture or swapping it to another posture is secondary to movement and the amount of different postures you can assume”
For those who wish to be active but feel things might be stopping them due to what is considered to be poor posture shouldn’t worry it can be changed and fairly quickly by simply by starting exercising at the appropriate level.
To begin with you may be limited by your range of movement and general ability but any sound training program will address this allowing you to work in a manner that accounts for any limitations yet challenges you sufficiently to ensure changes. Also if we look at your goals you can see how much your posture gets in the way or not. If your aim is to get generally stronger and fitter such that your daily tasks become easier to handle, a quite reasonable goal in the first instance, then it really doesn’t make any difference if you meet some ideal criteria or not. Starting getting more exercise be it walking more at lunch time or getting to the gym regularly will improve how you both feel and move. If your goals go beyond this then the first step still needs to be addressed if you haven’t been doing much up to now, you need to be able to walk before you run kind of thing.
If you are already active but feel that how well you move is still hampering you then working on your weaknesses be they movement or strength related. For runners including drills can form part of your warm up and have dedicated sessions if really needed. Golfers may want to work on their rotational ability through both the hips and the spine. rugby players may want/need to do many differnt things due to the nature of the sport but strength is an important component in all of them, though often an over looked, and will help you maintain a more upright posture late in your runs, allow you to be more stable in your swing, and with rugby players improve many aspects of the physical side of the game.
The same goes for in the gym. If you are deadlifting you might not be able to deadlift from the floor to begin with and still maintain solid technique. If the height of the bar is adjusted this will become easier so that you are able to hold a good neutral position then through the appropriate loading build strength at a rate that allows you not to compromise this. Building from this position you will develop the strength and mobility that allows you to eventually lower the bar so that you start with it back on the floor.
To finish up. Give yourself a break with regards to what you look like at your desk and think more about moving a bit more, it’s good for you in many different ways and most go beyond what you look like standing or sitting at your desk.