Posture gets a lot of press. Every week I see several articles about it in my email or social media feeds. Most of these articles are different versions of the same story of how your horrible posture is causing all your pain. This is nothing new, it’s been the accepted wisdom for a very long time.
You’re told that the way you sit at a computer is causing your shoulder and wrist pain. Your posture when texting is causing your neck pain. The way you slouch when watching TV is causing your low back pain. Your posture while driving is causing your neck, shoulder, and/or back pain. I could go on and on.
What if I told you, that’s not necessarily true?
I know people who have horrible posture but they’re completely pain free. I know other people who have pretty good posture but they have terrible pain. Clearly, there’s something going on besides body position.
Some of those things include:
I know many people who spend a lot of time and energy making sure that their posture is as perfect as they can make it, and it doesn’t help their pain; in fact, sometimes it makes it worse. Think about the last time you intentionally stood up straight. To do this, you had to tighten up your back, shoulder, and arm muscles. You had to hold many of these muscles rigid to maintain your “good posture” which led to those same muscles becoming fatigued and sore the longer if you held them too long.
I have a better solution for you. Don’t worry so much about the exact position of your body. Worry instead about how much or little your body’s moving. Rarely is it a good idea to just move one area of your body. Say you’re doing something with your hands. You should also be moving your wrists, forearms, and possibly your elbows and upper arms as well, depending on what you’re doing.
Confession: I have really horrible posture sometimes. When I’m sitting on my stool at work massaging someones shoulders, I’m often leaning forward… far more forward than the posture police will tell you is healthy. Conventional wisdom tells us that this will cause me all sorts of problems, but it doesn’t. When I’m at home on the couch, I often slouch which should cause me all kinds of pain, but it doesn’t.
The key is not just that one of these body positions is the opposite of (and therefore offsets) the other, although that doesn’t hurt. The key is that while I’m sitting on my stool working, I’m moving the rest of my body. I’m not just moving my hands or my arms; I’m also moving my torso, hips, and legs. When I’m at home on my couch, I’m not in constant motion, but neither am I stationary. I change position frequently so that my body isn’t stationary for too long a period of time. Hint: small adjustments are all I make sometimes.
All the things you used to know about posture are probably out-dated. For instance, being able to walk while balancing a book on your head doesn’t help you have great posture. All it does is frustrate you if the top of your head isn’t flat.
Now all of this doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally recommend a change in posture for you, but it’s probably going to be as a temporary intervention to help relieve pain you already have, not as a cure all. Like the old saying goes, if it hurts when you do that… then don’t do that.