What should I know about posture?
Many people come to Rebound looking for management of back and/or neck pain. Some common questions or comments we get are those regarding posture. Many people feel that this back or neck pain is due to poor posture or just simply want to know if there are any posture recommendations that we can make. This usually brings up the question “what is the best posture for me?”. I will briefly explore this question here, and the answer may be a little less specific than you may think.
Posture can mean different things to different people. Depending on who you ask, posture can mean a moving posture, sitting posture, standing posture, working posture, or any combination of these and everything in between. Just like the definition of posture will be different for different people, the importance of posture and specific recommendations regarding posture will be different for different people. At the end of the day, management of an individual’s pain, discomfort, or feelings of poor posture always depend on that individual’s unique circumstances and specific recommendations and management strategies should be discussed with a health care professional. However, there are a few things that we can talk about generally that can apply to most people.
An Anatomical Approach
“Stop slouching!”, “sit up straight!”, “pull your shoulders back!”. Do these sound familiar? These have long been the worries of concerned parents or loved ones that try to get us to mind our posture. Whether for reasons regarding health or simply just appearance, this was what good posture was believed to look like (or sound like). This begs the question of whether one posture is inherently better than the rest. Is there such thing as a perfect posture? I’ll run with these old theories for a bit first. One thing that holds true with this thought process is that certain tissues (joints, muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, etc) of the spine (and other areas of your body) do not do well with certain movements. For example, the discs of our spines do not like movements such as flexion (rounding the back or bending/hunching over) and rotation.
If we think of posture as a single position or a snapshot in time, one can see how some positions may not be good for certain tissues. However, different tissues may not do well with other movements. For example, the joints of the spine do not like movements such as extension (opposite of flexion; arching the back or bending backward), so you can start to see how one static posture would need to be a delicate balance to try to ensure that there are no tissues that are being put under an excess amount of stress. This is a concept in posture and ergonomics called “balancing the moments”. This may lead us to believe that there is, indeed, a perfect “goldilocks zone” posture that makes every tissue in our body happy and which we can stay in for hours and feel completely fine after. To test this, I propose a short challenge. While you are reading this, try to find what you think is perfect posture based on what you understand. Once you have found that posture, try holding that exact posture for a minute or two. How long do you think you could comfortably hold that posture? Half an hour? 1 hour? A couple of hours? Keep this in mind as we discuss further.
A Functional Approach
Let’s explore for a moment the thought that posture is not just a simple snapshot in time. Let’s think about adding an aspect of time into this. What we understand about posture and pain currently is that pain is most likely largely caused by how the body moves as a result of posture. If posture causes some fault in movement, there is a potential for pain or discomfort to result. If a posture causes a tissue, namely muscle, to lengthen excessively, that tissue tends to go silent and not be able to do its part in supporting and stabilizing the other tissues around it, namely the joints and/or discs. This phenomenon is called “tissue creep”. This can cause a fault in movement that can cause pain in the unsupported tissues and can later cause the silent tissues to overreact after being silent, resulting in a feeling of muscle spasm. This can eventually lead to a vicious cycle that can cause more constant and disabling pain if not addressed. This all sounds pretty concerning and makes it sound like posture could be vitally important to help prevent this cascade of issues. However, it has been found that while the tissue creep phenomenon can be seen to some extent even with postures held for a short period of time, no meaningful changes to movement or tissue support have been seen with postures held for even 15-20 minutes. In short, postures held for short periods of time have not been seen to be problematic.
What Does It All Mean?
This brings us to the most important points that I can make regarding posture. First, no one posture is inherently good or bad. You can be in a posture that looks terrible and might make your grandmother cry, but as long as you only hold it for 10-15 minutes, you will likely be OK. Second, a moving posture is the best posture. If you need to sit or stand for long periods of time, it is best to change and vary your posture as frequently as you can. Avoiding holding any posture for more than 20-30 minutes and trying to add any kind of movement into your daily tasks is what is going to be best for your body. Your body is a moving machine and it craves movement to keep it healthy!
This is a pretty general look at how posture fits into body health. Specific recommendations can be made but this is largely dependant on each individual and should be discussed further with a health care professional if there are any concerns. If you have more questions about posture and how it fits into your musculoskeletal health, book in today to see one of the practitioners at Rebound Sport & Spine!