We’ve all heard it before: “sit up straight”, “shoulders back”, “your posture sucks”.
But what exactly is perfect posture? Is there such a thing as perfect posture? Is your pain the “result” of your posture?
In most textbooks you’ll read that perfect posture is where we align various spots on the body (external acoustic meatus, acromion of the scapula, greater trochanter, etc) in a line. It’s said that when someone is in this “perfect posture” that he/she won’t be in pain and as we deviate from this position we will end up in pain.
Through my various schooling (kinesiology, strength & conditioning, and physical therapy) I’ve been ingrained with this thinking. I’ve watched hundreds of people get taught how to stand “better” or sit “correctly” to get out of pain. When we look at how someone moves from a biomechanical standpoint, we know that there are postures that reduce stress, strain, and energy expenditure – but this does not indicate that these postures are inherently better than the other. I absolutely agree that having a forward head posture while typing for 10 hours a day is not the way to feel your best and move the best; however, I don’t think we can point to it as the reason for your pain.
If we comb through the literature in regards to posture & pain its quite shocking what you’ll find. There is little to no correlation between posture & pain, making it quite hard to say that bad posture will lead to pain.
Nevertheless, just because the literature doesn’t indicate that “bad posture” will lead to pain, it also doesn’t mean that there is any harm from encouraging people to spend more time in positions that challenge their body in ways that are more encouraging to long term health (less joint stress). For instance, spending time in a rounded posture encourages your spinal disc to protrude posteriorly where it is most likely to herniate. In contrast, spending time in a very extended posture increases the contact of the spinal facets and could lead to a spondylolisthesis. Whereas if someone were to spend the majority of their time between these points – “neutral spine” – these risks are potentially reduced. However, does this mean that there is some inherent perfect position of the spine? No – it means that there is just a position where it has less stressors associated.
Although I can point to these areas of being increased stress, it doesn’t mean you will get injured if you go there. As long as your tissues are stress resilient (which hopefully you train them to be) then you will be fine. Instead of one perfect posture, I believe people should aim to move around as much as possible, exploring various postures. Every posture has its advantages and disadvantages, and while assuming you don’t have pain right now, you’d likely be best served to spend some time in various positions & postures – challenging your body and encouraging it to stay healthy.
Our body wants to replicate cells where needed, not in areas of inactivity. If we want to encourage the most optimal health, we want to move around and not stay in one posture for an extended period of time. Like I said with the neutral spine – it is great to reduce stress and spend time there, but we need to explore flexion, extension, rotation to encourage the body to keep its mobility and cellular structure there.
Move well, lift heavy, stay healthy,
The Strength Therapist Crew