With the start of the global pandemic, a large majority of the workforce has found themselves working from home indefinitely. As a result, people have been less likely to move around throughout the day and engage in social interactions which has taken a spin on their normal routine.
Many desk workers find themselves working longer hours than usual as a result of the flexibility that working from home brings. For some unknown reason that goes back for as long as I can remember, people seem to believe ‘poor posture’ is the culprit and the one to blame for their neck, shoulder, and back pain.
As a physical therapist, over the course of my career and more so during the pandemic, I have patients that come in to see me complaining of pain and the first thing they tell me is, “I know my posture is terrible”. But does this actually matter?
What we know and what the research tells us
By definition, posture is the attitude assumed by the body either with support during the course of muscular activity, or as a result of the coordinated action performed by a group of muscles working to maintain stability. Posture can be further broken down into two types:
Static Posture: How you hold yourself when you aren’t moving.
Dynamic Posture: How you hold yourself while you are moving. Our body is designed to move in multiple planes of motion.
The human body is comprised of 206 bones and even more joints. Synovial joints, which are the most common joints in the human body allow bones to slide past or rotate around one another producing movement. They allow us to do things like walk, run, as well as perform everyday activities. But what happens when our joints are fixed to one position for too long?
There is mounting evidence that posture does not correlate with pain. Here are just a few:
But yet there are still beliefs that it does regardless of what the evidence says. How many times have you heard someone say, your posture is terrible! So, if poor posture is a thing than what gold standard are we comparing it to? The thing is there is no gold standard and there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ posture. As we age, our spinal discs lose hydration resulting in less cushioning making them prone to cracks and tears. This can have an effect on our resting posture but these changes occur in people with and without pain.
Can posture cause a problem?
Absolutely. Posture can certainly cause a problem if you are spending all of your time in one position. Imagine sitting in a continuing education course for 8 hours with what you think is good posture. This can also cause problems because any posture that we are in for too long may lead to pain and dysfunction. However, like mentioned earlier this seems to be more of a movement problem than a postural problem.
What can we do about it?
Change your posture by moving more often. I’ am sure you have heard phrases like motion is lotion and our best posture is our next posture. As cliché as it sounds, it’s the truth! You should be moving in and out of positions every 20-30 minutes. The SAID principle stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. This means that our body will adapt to the stresses that are placed upon them. Prolonged postures should be reversed with exercise which will help improve aspects of mobility and strength.
- People in pain don’t have different postures than those not in pain
- ‘Bad’ posture does not equal pain
- Posture is always changing just like movement
- As we get older our posture changes however this occurs in people with and without pain
- There is no one ‘optimal’ posture but any position that is maintained for too long may lead to pain
If you have been working from home more frequently and sitting for a majority of the day here is an exercise sequence that can be performed to help address specific areas that tend to be affected:
1) T/S extension over foam roller 15 repetitions
2) Floor slides on foam roller- 15 repetitions
3) 3-way hip flexor stretch Hold 20-30 sec each way
4) Seated W’s 15 repetitions
5) Hip Bridges 15 repetitions