There are a lot of healthcare professionals on social media discussing whether or not posture really matters. It’s kind of the hot button topic in the physical therapy and pain science world. These days, it’s en vogue and edgy to say that posture doesn’t matter. I’ve been in this business long enough now to watch fads come and go. I love to listen to both sides of every story and to be honest, most of the time the underlying message on each side is essentially the same. People are just too busy spewing out extreme messages to get more likes on their Instagram page rather than really listening to what others have to say. Since this is my platform to educate people about the body as best I know how, I want to tell our readers why I think posture matters…but it may not be in the way you’d expect.
When most people think of good posture, they think head up, shoulders back, don’t slouch, and suck in your stomach, perhaps like an Army PFC lined up for uniform inspection. Is that what we want? Is that how we should present at all times in order to avoid back or neck pain? No. But does that mean it doesn’t matter? Does that mean slouching with a forward head and neck, zero tension in the core, and a tilted pelvis is ok? Again, no. Posture matters in the sense that being aware of where your body is in space at all times matters. There is little to no solid evidence that having bad posture causes pain. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary…that poor posture does not cause pain. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contribute or play a role. One study looked at thousands of people who experienced an episode of low back pain and found that being distracted while doing a specific task makes people 25x more likely to experience acute low back pain. It also found that being in an awkward posture also increased the likelihood, just not as much. The combination of the two, an awkward posture and being distracted, was the key.
There is also evidence that posture affects emotions. After all, you rarely see a superhero portrayed in a rounded, traditionally poor position of posture. People in positions of power often adopt a similar position for that same reason. Power begets power. A depressed posture has been shown to cause depression. Depressed people who adopt happy postures have been shown to feel better. There is also evidence that emotions affect pain sensitivity. Anxiety increases perceived pain responses. So it stands to reason that posture, emotions, and pain are related in some fashion and clearly influence one another.
It’s better to think of posture and movement patterns in terms of what puts the most amount of postural stress on the body. Younger people with more adaptable soft tissues and mobile joints may be able to maintain an awkward or poor posture for longer periods of time than an older person with less adaptable tissues because the postural stress on the body is less overall. Duration of stress matters as well. Bending over to examine something under your sink for five minutes is much less likely to cause injury as opposed to doing that for many hours a day as a plumber, for example. The duration of the stress is longer, but the posture is the same. Many postural stresses can be avoided…if you notice it’s a stressor…which unfortunately, many people don’t.
The best posture is a dynamic one. We weren’t created to be sedentary. Our bodies are meant to move in a variety of positions and to do so frequently. A sedentary lifestyle contributes significantly to the degeneration of postural reflexes, as discovered by NASA while studying the physiological effects of inactivity. We have the best length-tension relationship in our muscles in neutral, so it’s a great place to start. Once you’re able to identify neutral, your brain and your body become more aware of when you stray and it’s easier to respond as appropriate, for the position you find yourself in. You don’t and shouldn’t maintain erect Triple S posture throughout every movement. Find freedom and variety in your movements, with the ability to decrease the postural stress as needed for your body at that specific time. It’s a learning process that takes time and practice. And it matters.
Check out the link below to our Posture Series on LYT Daily. It’s also available for purchase if you aren’t a subscriber. In this series, Lara and I educate you, your brain, and your body on all things posture and movement, to decrease those postural stressors in your life! Until then, I’ll see you on the mat!