Have you ever been to a Physical Therapist, Pilates instructor, Yoga teacher, Personal Trainer, Chiropractor or other health and wellness professional and been told your “bad” posture is the source of your pain?
Perhaps you’ve even declared it for yourself, saying something like, “I know I have terrible posture! I’ve always had terrible posture!”
We’ve been conditioned to believe that posture is either “good” or “bad”, and “good” posture keeps us safe, while “bad” posture leads to injury or pain. We tend to believe that “correct” posture means keeping a straight and erect back, and “incorrect” posture means slouching.
There’s very little evidence to support any of these beliefs.
It’s a misconception that we should sit or stand in one specific posture to minimize pain and discomfort. There is no one-size-fits-all ideal posture, in part because we humans are not designed to stay in one position for hours and hours.
This doesn’t mean that the way we sit and stand can’t influence the way we feel, but investing time, money and energy in a search for the one perfect position to find relief is ineffective. The risks associated with not moving at all by living a sedentary lifestyle are far greater than the risks associated with what we arbitrarily consider to be “poor posture”.
It’s a misconception that we should sit or stand in a specific posture, often with the back straight, guarded and stiff, to minimize discomfort. The belief that keeping the back and trunk braced in the “correct” position will protect the spine and prevent or minimize back pain is erroneous and isn’t optimal for spine health.
This infographic illustrates the evidence for letting go of the “correct posture” narrative.
We’re designed to Move.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a sedentary lifestyle can have a serious impact on our long-term health. Living a sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased risk for many chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders like low back pain. Most of these diseases are also linked to an increase in mortality.
Instead of worrying about whether your posture is to blame for your discomfort, invest in movement. If you sit for work, consider doing more fidgeting and shifting. Get up from your chair as often as possible. Recent research suggests if we sit, we can benefit from standing up and moving for 3 minutes every 30 minutes.
Taking frequent movement snack breaks has cumulative benefits over time. Imagine how you’ll feel in 6 weeks if you implement these ideas as part of your day:
- On the hour, do a few sets of squats by lowering your bum to the edge of your chair and standing up again.
- On the half hour, do a few sets of push ups or modified push ups.
- Make up your own routine based on what you want to improve–get up and down from the floor in as many different ways you can think of, jog in place, do step ups, walk sideways like a crab, throw your arms up in the air as if celebrating–this one is great for activating fun and joy!
- Simply walk around your office for a few minutes and breathe deeply.
If you have a standing desk, it’s equally as important to move often, since standing in one spot is also “inactivity”.
Here are a few things to keep in mind about the myth of “correct posture”:
- There’s no magic place called “correct posture”. Think of posture not as a destination, but as an exploration. Your best posture is the next one. Find a position that feels comfortable for now—and acknowledge it’s temporary until you move to the next position.
- Let go of the guilt—it’s totally OK to slouch! Sitting in a stiff and braced position for long periods of time often creates more discomfort. Relax. Where are YOU comfortable? Some people feel great slouching, and others feel better with a straight back—either is OK. This is an individual experience, so do what feels best for you. Find ways to vary your position throughout the day.
- Awareness is key. Tune in to your body and be aware of what positions feel relaxed, and what positions feel tense. If you’re not aware that something is happening, you cannot change it. Think of discomfort as your body’s way of indicating it’s time to move…not as an indicator that something is wrong.
- Fear and anxiety are associated with increased discomfort. We’ve been trained to fear “bad posture”, and are often holding tension in the back, neck, or shoulders because we’re afraid that if we relax, we’ll cause harm. This is a misconception. Start to gently play with new positions and see what feels best for you.
- Deep, slow, full breaths calm the nervous system, and creates a cascade of events in body that supports well-being. If you’ve been sitting for over 30 minutes, stand up, open your arms wide, and breathe into the abdomen for a minute before moving for a few more minutes.
Give yourself permission to explore any and all positions. Your body is capable, resilient and adaptable, and you’re designed to move…often. So get moving and be curious about what you’re going to find. Posture is not right or wrong, good or bad!
As always, please connect with me if you have questions about posture or anything movement related. I’m here to support you to create movement confidence and freedom.