Mention the word posture and it’s as if those around you shift uncomfortably in their chairs. Perhaps the knee jerk reaction is a result of our childhood being filled with the ‘sit up straight’ and ‘don’t slouch’ mantras overemphasised by our mums and dads. It appears that posture is often blamed for our aches and pains. But is poor posture responsible for pain? Does perfect posture actually exist?
Our bodies adapt to the different forces acting on us caused by gravity and the way we move during the day. As conservation of energy is of paramount importance for the body, adjustments are made to make the frequent movements or postures we assume more energy efficient. A forward curve of the spine increases to accommodate a habitual downward gaze toward a mobile device, while hip flexor tension increases from the long periods of time we spend sitting. These changes the body makes don’t occur instantaneously and the act of adopting these postures isn’t the problem, but rather the the duration of time spent in them can impact our health.
Despite my poorly drawn stick figures, the image above depicts that the further away structures are from the midline, the more load placed on the spine by gravity. We are told is to sit more like the image on the right. However the issue with even the most ergonomic postures is that whilst the loads going through the spine are reduced in these positions, the loads are still going through the same spinal structures, sometimes for 6-8 hours a day.
A patient of mine who had back pain when sitting at work pulled a few strings and got himself a standing desk. When he returned for his next visit, he no longer had back pain, but he could hardly walk because of the pain in his legs. Should we assume a more ergonomic posture? Probably, but the body isn’t really interested in minute adjustments that make you more comfortable and move less. It’s far more important to look at how you may work more dynamically, in various postures to help disperse the load placed on the spine by gravity throughout the day.
The principle is essentially the same for those with active jobs. If you perform a repetitive movement, is there a way you can perform it differently? Split stance, squat? Even breaking up tasks during the day so that the movement requirements are varied and the risk of muscle fatigue and injury are reduced.
If you want to heed mums warning about slouching and back pain, stop worrying about trying to sit a little straighter and just get out of the chair. If you still struggling with pain or just need some direction, click here to make an appointment to see an osteopath today.