Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve been told to sit-up straight and that slouching is bad for your back. This saying is rooted in a common belief that adopting the “perfect posture”, typically outlined as sitting up straight with your shoulders and chin tucked back, will protect against back pain. Is this backed up by science; can the perfect posture prevent pain? If you sit with bad posture are you doomed to have pain?
A recent study looked at 1,100 people and took pictures of their sitting posture. Based on the pictures, they were then divided into one of four postural groups: (1) upright, (2) intermediate, (3) slumped back with forward head posture and (4) erect trunk with forward head posture. After an analysis, there was found to be absolutely NO link between their posture and reported neck pain or headaches. One group was no more likely to have pain than any other group. Instead, the authors found that the slumped back with forward head posture, aka what we typically label as “bad” posture, was associated with increased levels of depression. The authors concluded that while posture is not related to pain it likely reflects a person’s mood and well-being.
Does this mean you should sit however you want for as long as you want? Not exactly. While there is no one posture that is better than any other for preventing pain, the TIME spent in that posture is important because physical inactivity is a well-known risk factor for back pain. Therefore, to keep moving, it is a good idea to vary your posture regularly. That can be going from sitting up straight to sitting slouched forward, or from standing upright to sitting with your feet up on your desk! I like to say “your next posture is your best posture” to encourage movement throughout the day. Other tricks you can use to help vary your posture include taking phone calls standing up, setting an alarm every half hour to change your sitting position, standing during commercials and using an adjustable chair to assist with switching up your sitting posture.
If there is a posture that is aggravating your pain, feel free to change postures and know it won’t lead to more pain down the line. For people that are experiencing pain, this knowledge can be freeing. If your back hurts when you sit up straight, know that it is safe for you to be more relaxed and slouch and it is not bad for your back to do so. So kick back and relax, posture just isn’t as important as it has made out to be.
If you are experiencing back pain, neck pain, headaches or any other symptoms feel free to reach out to Travis or one of our physiotherapists for a one on one assessment to get you back on track to doing what you enjoy the most!
Karen V. Richards, Darren J. Beales, Anne J. Smith, Peter B. O’Sullivan, Leon M. Straker, Neck Posture Clusters and Their Association With Biopsychosocial Factors and Neck Pain in Australian Adolescents, Physical Therapy, Volume 96, Issue 10, 1 October 2016, Pages 1576–1587, https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20150660