Posture vs. Pain

Posture vs Pain

Seemingly, there has always been much emphasis on our posture. But how important is it?

From early childhood, your parents may have encouraged you to “sit up straighter” or “stand taller”. In the work place (and especially amidst COVID-19 times) companies are providing ergonomic assessments for their employees, with the purpose of developing more posturally ideal work stations and desk set-ups. 

This postural focus in people’s day to day lives may have instilled a public perception of what ‘good’ posture is, and comparably, what the consequences are if you assume a ‘bad’ posture. As such, it is broadly reinforced that such ‘bad’ posture can lead to pain. 

But, does posture even matter? 

Amongst the literature, there is less of a correlation between posture and the frequency and/or intensity of pain compared to what is initially thought. For instance, one study explored the relationship between sitting posture and neck pain and/or headaches. The 1100 subjects were grouped into one of four postural categories, including upright, intermediate, slumped thoracic + forward head posture, and erect thoracic + forward head posture. It was revealed that people in pain don’t have different postures to those that aren’t in pain. 

Therefore, research would largely deny a link between posture being a primary cause for pain. An important reason for this being that pain is multifactorial, and that contributing factors such as stress and poor sleep for example, can increase muscle tension and cause discomfort. 

The biggest problem is not necessarily of posture (although there is a time and a place for posture to be specifically addressed), but rather of movement. Posture only matters if you are unable to move from that position, or are in a position e.g. sitting or standing for a prolonged period of time. 

Interestingly, the body has Acid Sensing Ion Channels which detect a change in the pH levels of the tissue. Prolonged static positioning may cause reduced blood flow, which may increase the acidity of the tissue. These channels sense this pH fluctuation, and can cause a sensation of discomfort or pain.

Therefore, it more important to understand that your next posture is your best posture!

So then, what is a ‘good’ posture. Currently, there is no agreed upon gold standard of the most optimal static posture in the literature. Individual variability is normal, and there is no one size fit all approach. One’s own best posture, is one where they are most relaxed, comfortable and pain-free.

By Lauren Kendall, Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates Instructor