The importance of posture was one of the most requested topics and is an area overflowing with myths and misconceptions. I suspect this article might challenge some long held beliefs; I’ve certainly changed most of my beliefs about posture over the last five years!
From a young age the importance of posture is repeatedly highlighted: from our teachers telling us to “sit up straight”, to endless media articles linking posture to back pain and the ergonomic desk assessments conducted in our workplaces. The message comes through loud and clear: “Bad posture causes back pain”.
Hopefully, if you think back to the first article on pain, you might be a little suspicious of such a sweeping statement blaming one factor as a cause for pain. So what does the research say?
In 2008 researchers reviewed 54 studies looking at spinal posture (1). Across these 54 studies they found:
That there was no association between spinal posture and pain.
What about the dreaded ‘text neck’ in which regular mobile device use is supposedly damaging our necks? Well a 2016 study looking at 1108 teenagers found no link between neck postures and pain. This is repeated throughout the research with no clear links between posture and pain being found.
So does posture simply not matter? As ever the answer is not entirely black and white. While the importance of posture in back pain has been hugely overstated it is still something we should consider but perhaps in a slightly different light.
There is some evidence that links sustained awkward working postures to increased risk of back pain (3). This is less about whether someone has good or bad posture but whether they work in awkward positions for prolonged periods. In these cases it makes sense to adjust workspaces but the focus should be on comfort and ease of use, not the notion of ‘good posture’. It’s also worth noting that many people work in awkward positions with no problems at all, as ever the causes of pain are multi-factorial.
What should we conclude about posture? In the end worrying about your posture is more likely to contribute to back pain than your posture itself! However, if there are postures that seem to cause you pain then it’s sensible to see if you can make short-term adjustments to make them more comfortable or, even better, find ways to vary your posture regularly. Comfort and movement are far more important than any perceived ‘ideal’ posture.
Movement is really the key and your best posture is your next posture. Your body is not designed to sit still and whether you sit beautifully upright or slouched to the bottom of your chair if you stay in one position for too long its likely to start aching (4).
Our bodies are strong and adaptable, capable of thriving in a multitude of different postures and the idea that there is some sort of universal ‘best posture’ that all humans should strive to towards is simply that: an idea. An idea that lacks scientific support, spreads a myth of fragility and one we would do well to leave in the past.
The below photograph is of Lamar Gant who is the only person to have ever lifted 5x his own bodyweight.
A great example of the strength and adaptability of the human body regardless of posture!