compass health clinic

the myth of perfect posture

Hey there! 

Let’s take a minute to talk about the best posture. Ah, yes, that ever-elusive concept that has been drilled into our minds since childhood. “Sit up straight! Stand tall! Don’t slouch! Shoulder back!” Sound familiar? Well, I’m here to shake things up a bit and tell you that maybe, just maybe, we’ve been looking at it all wrong.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that there exists some sort of holy grail of posture – a perfect alignment (I’ll talk more on that in another blog post) that, if achieved, will solve all our back and neck pain problems. And it sort of makes sense to think that right? It seems logical. Slouching doesn’t look good, we often notice pain at work whilst slumped over our desk at the end of the day (more on this in a bit), and we’ve all probably had a concern at some point that we may become stooped over as we get older. Let alone the fact that we all know that one person who dared to bend over with a bent back to lift something heavy, and then their back went. 

But guess what? What if I told you there’s no such thing as perfect posture. That’s right, you heard me. No. Such. Thing.

Now, before you start questioning everything you’ve ever been told about sitting up straight, hear me out. Our bodies are not meant to stay frozen in one position for hours on end. We’re dynamic beings, meant to move and groove with the rhythm of life. So why do we expect ourselves to adhere to some rigid, static posture, particularly when it comes to work?

Here’s the truth bomb: your best posture is your next posture. Let me take a moment to explain what I mean by that. It’s not about maintaining a military-like stance or sitting as straight as a board. It’s about embracing the beauty of movement and allowing your body to find what feels good in the moment.

Think about it – when you’re at home, binging through the latest Netflix series, stuck in one position for what can often be hours, what happens? You start to feel stiff, achy, and downright uncomfortable right? So what do you do about it? You take a moment to shift around, stretch, or simply stand up and take a little walk, ah, sweet relief! However for some reason, we don’t seem to apply this same logic to our work environment.

If you’ve ever come in to my clinic, and have experienced some sort of back, shoulder or neck related pain that seems to be related to work, you’ll know that one of the first things I do is discuss how you’re sitting, and ask you if there’s a reason you’ve picked that particular posture, and then try to discuss the beliefs behind why you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing. Often it stems from childhood, but not always. Sometimes it’s because we’ve hurt our back in the past, and want to be protective of it, which sounds sensible. But by becoming overly protective, we get to a point where we never allow our back to actually relax. One thing I often have to remind people is just how robust and strong our backs actually are, and that they’re designed to bend. If you experience back pain and are concerned about your back, tensing it up more is actually often the last thing you want to do. And then there’s the billions that have been spent on ergonomic research and office setups, but guess what? The prevalence of work associated pain, particularly related to the lower back, hasn’t changed at all since the introduction of ergonomics. In fact it’s gone up!! And this is because it doesn’t address the crux of the issue, which is not at all to do with posture, but in fact related to our lack of movement. If anything, a good ergonomic setup will encourage us to move less! 

So other than moving, what other factors might contribute towards the pain we experience? Well remember the example I gave earlier, where I mentioned that a lot of the time we experience pain is at the end of the day when we’re slumped over. Well research suggests that being tired can play a massive factor for those experiencing back pain. It’s something that we often forget, and we form an association that it’s all down to how we’re sitting, but actually it’s just to fatigue. Other factors include:

  • Feeling high levels of stress at home, or work
  • Feeling down or depressed
  • Feeling tired
  • Experiencing poor sleep
  • Not meeting the recommended daily activity guidelines for health
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
Does this ring true to you? Do you notice higher levels of discomfort during these moments? If so, then these should be up there on the list of things we try to address way before being concerned about what position we find ourselves in throughout the day. 

So… what should you do about it then, and how often should you move?

Andrew Terry self portrait

Above, you’ll see a rather peculiar picture of a grumpy face. It’s actually MY grumpy face (with my single tuft of hair included), and is a piece of artwork I hand out to some of my lucky patients (don’t worry, I will often draw a happy face on the back too). Whilst it’s obviously part done in jest, I actually ask them to put this near their workstation, and use it as a visual reminder to move whenever they see it. I’ve found alarms to remind you to move just do not work as they often go off when you’re right in the middle of something, leading to them becoming annoying and eventually turned off for good. A visual reminder however is far more likely to be acknowledged and actioned when there is the capacity to do so. And it doesn’t need to be a grumpy face reminder either! Some of my patients get a picture of their family, perhaps buy a new plant, or anything new. The new part by the way can’t be stressed enough. If you try to associate the pot for your pens as a reminder to move for example, this also will not work, as it’s something that you’re already accustomed to, and it’s much harder to form a new relationship with it. 

The other thing I ask my patients to think about when they look at this piece of art, is to think about how fast their brain is working. “What does that mean?” I use this example. Imagine your partner or friend came to pick you up for a surprise special lunch whilst you were at work. Would you be able to stop work, and enjoy the lunch, or would your mind be half thinking about whatever task you’ve had to stop doing? Now whilst there’s nothing wrong were it to be the latter, after all, high levels of focus is where we do some of our best work. But live in that space for too long, and our body can become chronically stressed, and this can in turn increase pain levels. So using the visual reminder to remind you to take a break, get a bit of fresh air, or some water, or chat to your at the table next to you when appropriate to find out about their weekend so you can have a small mental break, is a great way to reduce stress and in turn pain. 

“And wbat about how to move?!?” I hear you all saying. Well the simplest piece of advice I can give is, whatever position you’ve been in, try to do the opposite. If your arms have been below your shoulders because of typing, stretch them up towards the ceiling. I even give a resistance band to my patients that I suggest they use when they have achey shoulders. If you’ve been slumped over your desk, perhaps extend your back backwards, or get up and move around. 

So, let go of the notion that you have to achieve some unattainable ideal of posture. Instead, focus on being kind to your body and giving it the movement it craves. Listen to your body’s cues – if you’re feeling tense, change it up and do the opposite, whether that’s getting up to move, or if you’re feeling stressed or your brain is in overdrive, taking a moment to have a breath, pause, and allow for a moment of calm. 

Whether it’s taking a leisurely stroll in the park, busting out some dance moves in your living room, or simply stretching it out while you binge-watch your favorite show, find what brings you joy and makes your body sing.

In conclusion, let’s ditch the quest for perfect posture and instead embrace the joy of movement and a sense of calm. Your body will thank you for it, I promise. So go ahead, strike a pose, shake it out, and remember – your best posture is always your next posture.

Until next time, keep on moving!


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