The Myth of “Good Posture”
November 24th, 2017
Di Belzil, RMT Synergystix Partners in Health
When most people think about posture, they hear phrases like “sit up straight,” “tuck in your chin,” or other catch-all correctives that many of us were told growing up. Over time, this creates an understanding of posture that involves holding the body in ways that feel unnatural, sometimes even painful. In fact, if you ask the average person to show you “good posture,” they will over-straighten the spine, puff out the chest, and stand with stiff, unbent knees. Standing like that is hard work, and as soon as your focus shifts elsewhere, so does your body.
The reason that it is so hard to change posture is that it is set by parts of the brain and spinal cord that aren’t under our conscious control, and is determined by a wide array of factors including mood, history of injury, and the posture of those we grew up with. The brain and spinal cord set posture based on information on joints, muscles, emotions, external surroundings, and body history. And, it does all of this without you having to be conscious of any of it!
For the most part, this is extremely useful: imagine how exhausting it would be if you had to consciously maintain posture every minute of every day, relaxing some muscles and contracting others so that you wouldn’t fall over! There is simply too much information contributing to posture for us to be in conscious control of it. Whether we like it or not, posture has to be a “mindless” enterprise so that we can focus our minds elsewhere.
In general, the postural system is designed to correct itself when necessary—consider how you instinctively shift your weight while standing in line, or stretch out after sitting for a long time. However, postural strains can develop if this correction is prevented from occurring, whether due to the person ignoring the signal to change position, or due to external circumstances like an uncomfortable office chair. To make matters even more complicated, some people are more likely to develop postural strains than others, and everyone’s vulnerability increases with age.
For these reasons, postural correction is not a simple process, nor is it something that every person needs. Figuring out if postural correction is the approach for you, and then going about actively addressing the issue, involves three key factors: client engagement, creativity, and, most of all, time.
1. Client Engagement
The first step in determining if postural correction is the right approach to you, is determining the relationship between the pain that you’re feeling and the ways that you hold your body day-to-day. Does your job require you to sit or stand in one position for long periods (such as sitting at a desk, or working on a factory line)? Or do you have to perform repetitive movements throughout the day (such as typing, lifting, or twisting)? Some of these factors can be easily eliminated through ergonomic adjustments, and some require more in-depth solutions. Learning to suss out what movements, positions, and parts of your body are playing a role in your pain is crucial to eliminating it.
There is no such thing as a singular “good” or “correct” posture: each person has their own version of a comfortable and easy way to hold their body up, and even this is not always attainable due to injury and/or disability. Postural correction is a unique process for each person, and often the best solutions are found through a creative approach. With the help of your massage therapist and other health care practitioners, you can experiment with different homecare exercises, treatment approaches, and changes in habit to find the best solution(s) for you.
Last but not least, it is important to remember that what takes a long time to build up, takes a long time to take down. This is especially true with postural changes, as posture tends to be firmly rooted in deeply held beliefs about ourselves and our environments. Though postural changes are often easy to maintain once they have “sunk in,” establishing these changes takes hard work and a commitment to the process from both the therapist and the client.
At the end of the day, the goal is to find your best posture, one that accommodates any sites of injury or disability, and allows for the freest joint movement possible. If there is such a thing as “good” posture, it should be mindless, easy, and unique to each person.
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