The myth of the ‘perfect posture’

Joint Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 9, 2018

“Stand up straight!” “Pull your shoulders back!” “Don’t slouch!”

Did I just cause a shudder down your spine as you remember unpleasant childhood memories? We start hearing these messages about posture at a very early age, and as we get older, we see advertisements for braces and devices to improve our posture. Even medical professionals tell us we need to have better “alignment.”

But does posture really matter?

The answer is maybe. If you have pain or other health conditions such as osteoporosis, your posture may matter. It could be important to change how you are sitting, or adjust the height of your computer and keyboard to minimize repetitive forces through your joints to allow healing.

But have you ever tried to sit in the “perfect” posture for a prolonged period of time? It starts to hurt, doesn’t it? That’s because our bodies are meant to move, not stay in one place. Any prolonged posture — even the perfect one — is rigid and doesn’t allow free movement. Our joints and discs in the back get their nutrition from the fluid around them. That fluid is moved and nutrients are pushed into the joint surfaces through movement, not staying in one place.

Unfortunately, today’s lifestyle and work environment have made us incredibly sedentary. This can lead to feelings of “stiffness” and make us think our posture is causing that feeling when really, research shows it is probably our lack of movement.

Debunking the ‘perfect posture’

The literature on the ‘perfect posture’ has grown to show that none really exists. Every patient is different and it’s important to move through your whole range. As long as you have no other health condition, you should be able to slouch some of the time, sit up straight some of the time, cross your legs some of the time and squat down.

The tricky part, however, is what happens when you have pain? Then maybe posture matters. You may need to adjust your posture to allow joints to heal, decrease load to certain areas (i.e. changing how you lift the groceries) or go back and forth between sitting and standing at your desk.

Is this lifestyle change forever?

Well, that depends too. If you have a permanent condition, such as osteoporosis, you may need to change how you lift something. However, it is important you still move through as much range as possible for your health — and this will depend on your diagnosis. Other conditions may eventually heal, as well, and then you are free to move with a free spirit!

But do you know what predicts continued pain with movement? Fear! Research continually shows that posture and movement changes are closely linked to patients being afraid to move.

Unfortunately, we as your healthcare providers can scare you into not moving, so make sure you ask questions if you do not understand the posture your therapist or doctor wants you to work toward. The key to good posture is being able to move from one position to the next freely and without fear.

If you have pain with certain positions, have a condition that makes certain positions difficult, or feel weak or fearful getting from one position to the next, ask your doctor if physical therapy would be right for you. Physical therapists are specially trained in movement and how to get the joints and muscles working together to help you move and live the best life possible!

Need a physical therapist? Find one near you.

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