What is Posture?

Posture is a term used to describe the collective position of body parts relative to one another. Posture reflects our ability and inability to move, breathe and rest in balance. Ideal postures grant activity in the most efficient manner utilizing the least amount of energy.

Common Back Pain and Posture Myths

  • Back pain is short-term pain: A study[1] found that one year following a first attack of low back pain, 50% of patients were still complaining of intermittent or persistent symptoms interfering in normal daily activities or work.
  • Back pain is caused by inflammation: There are inflammatory back pain disorders; however, a sudden onset of back pain is usually entirely mechanical in nature – that is overstretching of the supporting ligaments and tissues surrounding the spine.
  • Back pain is caused by arthritis: Often described as degeneration, arthritis is a normal part of the aging process – we wrinkle on the inside like on the outside. The wrinkles are signs of wear and repair that can be seen on an x-ray, but does not mean it is the cause of the pain.
  • Take it easy and avoid activity: It may be necessary for one or two days after an initial episode; otherwise, it’s best to regain your mobility and activity as soon as pain permits. Movement is medicine.
  • You have to stop the physical activities you enjoy: This is untrue and in most cases harmful advice. While some back pain can be caused from sport, especially contact, there are many more likely explanations for the onset of a problem.
  • Back pain is caused by weather shifts: Climate and weather have often been accused for the onset of back pain, but more often it is the sitting posture and poor lifting habits of the individual that is responsible.

Why Poor Posture is a Problem

There is no consensus of ideal posture as everyone is different. However, we can agree – considering the influence of gravity – that being balanced or centered is better than not.

  • We conform to our environment opposed to molding our environment around us.
  • Poor, forward posture is not the issue, it’s duration of prolonged postures which are the issue.
  • Influences more than movement and appearance: affects our mood and behavior.
  • Poor sitting posture commonly produces low back pain. Once problems have developed, poor sitting posture perpetuates or worsens those problems.
  • When we sit for prolonged periods our postural muscles are taxed and we eventually adopt a slouched posture.

Bent Finger Analogy

Bend your finger back as far as possible and hold it there. It probably doesn’t hurt right away but as you hold it there for 10+ seconds it will being to ache and become uncomfortable like you should stop holding it there. When you let go, it goes away.

Try it again, now bend the finger past the point of strain until you feel the immediate sensation of pain. You have overstretched, and your pain warning system is telling you that continued movement in that particular direction will cause damage.

How poor posture causes pain is reluctantly similar to the bent finger analogy: If we take stress off our spine by being more upright, we don’t get the tension pain you’d expect being slouched forward.

Pain is a critical protective mechanism – ignore it at your own peril!

  • Respect the warning signs: pain is a warning something isn’t going right and could lead to something more serious, much like the ‘check engine’ light appearing on your dash – if you ignore it, greater problems could occur.
  • Pain, like thirst, is a conscious experience that motivates you to protect your body.

Lifting Technique

  • Seek a qualified strength and conditioning professional and learn how to squat and deadlift. Not only are they important strength exercises that keep up your musculoskeletal health, but they translate to how you perform everyday activities.
  • Everyone’s heard, “use your legs not your back;” however, it’s not the best strategy.
    • Grow your spine long.
    • Initiate lifting by sitting your hips/butt back like about to sit in a chair.
    • Descend into the squat, while thinking about keeping your tail feather stuck out.
    • Keep object as close to your body as possible per this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26603872
  • Everyone’s body is different, so there is no one-size- fits-all lifting technique. It’s best to seek a qualified professional whom teaches athletes how to lift heavy objects from the ground.

Workplace Strategies

  • Sit with a lumbar roll to maintain the natural curve of your low back when sitting, especially when forced to do for a prolonged period of time.
  • Take a micro-break for every 30 minutes of sitting.
  • If feeling stiff and sore after prolonged sitting, do a set of 10 backbends
  • Drink lots of water at work: hydration is healthy and needing to use the facilities more often makes you move more often!
  • You don’t need to do silly workouts, stretches or yoga at your desk – save it for the gym. Low-tech micro breaks and being mindful of movement throughout the day is the simplest and best strategy.

For Back Pain

  • Most back pain problems can be solved with conservative care, i.e., physical and manual therapy.
  • Surgery and injections are no better than sham for most mechanical back pain problems

References

1. Croft PR, MacFarlane GJ, Papageorgiou AC, Thomas E, Silman AJ. (1998). Outcome of low back pain in general practice: a prospective study. British Medical Journal, 316, 1356-1359