Posture can be a tricky beast for most people to grasp, though it’s seemingly simple. I could safely say that each and every day in my clinic a patient will mention,
“I think [insert various ache or pain here] is because of my posture”
That, or, they’ll blame the scape goat of the muscular system, their hip flexors. If I’m really lucky, they may even blame both!
Posture seems to be really important and placed in a high regard. I don’t blame you for thinking this way either. It’s been drilled into us from our earliest days. Teacher’s telling you to sit up straight, and grandparents or parents telling you to fix your posture and if you don’t fix your ‘bad’ posture, you’ll end up with pain and dysfunction.
If you’re like me and The Simpsons taught you everything you will ever know and hold dear, this quote from Principal Skinner will resonate with you;
‘Mother always said, “a curvy spine is the devil’s roller coaster”’
So, today I am here to clarify some key points and free you from the shackles of our oppressive posture overlords.
Research published by Karen Richards in 2016 helps to clarify why our previous understanding of posture isn’t so straight up and down (see what I did there?).
Karen and her colleagues took a lot of young people (over 1,100) took photos of their sitting posture and divided them into groups depending on the angles between their head, neck and upper back. From this they identified four distinct groups.
3. Upright back & forward head
4. Slumped back & forward head
From our traditional understanding of posture, we look at the above images and say a prayer for the slumped group, because, with posture like that, you’re destined for a life of back and neck pain.
The researchers found no significant difference in the odds of developing neck pain (or headaches, for that matter) between the groups! This strongly challenges our beliefs about posture and their relationship with pain.
What is really interesting though, is that our slumped group did have higher odds of depression. Which, as a therapist who has a strong belief in holistic (whole person) care, gets me really thinking…
Perhaps, a more important question to ask isn’t ‘what’s your posture like?’ but rather ‘how are you feeling?’. Just a thought!
So, when someone tells you posture is the problem, consider this…
- Has your posture changed recently? If not and it’s always been the same, maybe that isn’t the true cause of the new problem
- If you change your posture, does it change your pain in a good way?
- Are they trying to sell you something, or is posture something only they can fix? (excuse my scepticism…
In summary, here are Roar Physiotherapy’s Key Postural Points:
- Move often
- Move well
- Don’t sweat the small stuff but, if you’re worried, talk to someone you trust can help you and improve your understanding of your pain and posture
As always, leave any comments or questions below and I’d be happy to answer them!
Roar Principal Physiotherapist
P.S. Just to clarify, I do assess posture, but I do so in the right context
Richards, K. V., Beales, D. J., Smith, A. J., O'Sullivan, P. B., & Straker, L. M. (2016). Neck Posture Clusters and Their Association With Biopsychosocial Factors and Neck Pain in Australian Adolescents.