New Year, New Postural Routine?
New Year, Same Postural Routine?
Dr. Christine Rad, Doctor of Chiropractic
The new year is here and many of us set goals to make our lives better — eating more vegetables; or starting up a new physical activity routine; getting better sleep; reducing life stresses; or spending more time with your family and children.
Unfortunately, as trends go… our ability to maintain these new goals don’t always stick. Making or changing habits — good or bad — takes time and repetition! Having ups and downs is common, especially when our daily routines from 2019 to 2020 do not change. It gets even harder with a lack of social support to keep us going when our motivation hits a roadblock. We’ve all been there.
As the Doctor of Chiropractic at Bright Moon Wellness, I am interested in all things related to the body and how it functions. Education plays a vital role in the success of helping my patients reach their goals. Here is my tip to start 2020 off in the right direction: *drum roll please*
THE TRUTH ABOUT POSTURE
There is no single “correct” posture. Let that sink in. Firstly, we need to distinguish between “societal bad posture” (presence, respectability, attitude) and “harmful bad posture” (injury, stress, pain). In the end, however, both can influence how we feel.
Most of our communication is non-verbal. Our emotional states are associated with and shape our bodily patterns. Most negative emotions (fear, anxiety, stress, sadness, grief) tend to exhibit a stooped posture. This is an evolutionary attempt to hide or protect our vulnerable side — our face, chest, and stomachs. When we are happy, confident and healthy, we tend to open up, stand taller and feel comfortable showing our vulnerable areas. Sometimes it can be as easy as faking a smile or forcing ourselves to walk a little taller to feel better. There is research to support the crossplay between our mind and body; they are not separate.
Secondly, are we able to “fix” posture to prevent and/or resolve pain? The answer: sort of. There are certain positions that research has shown to prevent injury — or put another way, some positions lead to more injuries. For example:
- dynamic control of our knees and ACL injuries (particularly in athletes)
- reducing our spinal bending-rotation to lift heavy objects and lumbar disc herniations
However, that being said, differences in posture are a fact of life.The goal should be to increase our tissue capacity or tolerance so that we can withstand the demands of our lives. Like a paper clip, it can bend once, twice, but at some point the demand placed on that paperclip with bending will overcome its strength.
So what is perfect posture? Despite common sentiment and advice, there is no good evidence that there is one correct posture to prevent pain. People come in different shapes and sizes and adopt slightly different preferred postures and movement patterns. Even sitting itself is not dangerous. There is no conclusive evidence that links prolonged sitting with the onset of back pain. What does happen though is tissue creep. This is the stretching of viscoelastic tissues over time from applying static load to our ligaments. Similar to an elastic band that has been stretched for a while and then takes some time to return to its original state. Ligaments are everywhere, including our back. What we should know about creep is that the tissue does not fully restore after the load is removed. 20 minutes of light static load (sitting in the same rounded posture) can take more than 7 hours to recover. That leaves our spine vulnerable to cumulative injury.
Here’s a cool mini experiment: flexion-relaxation phenomenon. To get a grasp of the concept, stand up and touch the muscle bulges on either side of your low back.
- Now, very slightly, shift your bodyweight towards your toes and you should feel those muscle contract and stiffen underneath your fingers. The muscles turn on to keep your torso from falling forwards.
- Now, slowly start bending forward by rounding your back. The muscles will turn on again but at a certain point they will shut off and go soft beneath your fingers. That is the flexion-relaxation phenomenon.
The movement of our torso moving forward (the load) is no longer being supported by our muscles, and has shifted towards all our “passive” tissues, such as joints, ligaments, discs, etc. Again, that may leave our tissues vulnerable to injury and potentially lead to back pain.
The message is this: change positions and change often. The tissues taking a break and not doing their part will never complain (of pain). The ones doing all the work will start complaining. Distribute the workload.
We cannot determine if posture is the cause of someone’s pain. Many people adopt different postures and are pain-free, and others have pain in different postures. Everyone is built and acts differently. Your care — regardless of the practitioner — should always reflect that. We need to focus on treating the person, not the condition.
It’s time to update our understanding of posture and pain. Posture is a unique reflection of our individual structures, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours. Instead of mislabeling posture as a cause of pain, we should focus on what matters — activity management, life stress, sleep, etc. Get up, keep moving and get back to living happy.
DISCLAIMER: if you are on a current treatment plan with a healthcare practitioner, please abide by the plan of management discussed. This is for educational purposes only, for more information please book a complimentary 15 min meet-n-greet session with our chiropractor, Dr. Christine Rad.
- Colloca CJ, Hinrichs RN. The biomechanical and clinical significance of the lumbar erector spinae flexion-relaxation phenomenon: a review of literature. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics. 2005 Oct 1;28(8):623-31.
- Solomonow M, Baratta RV, Banks A, Freudenberger C, Zhou BH. Flexion–relaxation response to static lumbar flexion in males and females. Clinical Biomechanics. 2003 May 1;18(4):273-9.
- Solomonow M, Hatipkarasulu S, Zhou BH, Baratta RV, Aghazadeh F. Biomechanics and electromyography of a common idiopathic low back disorder. Spine. 2003 Jun 15;28(12):1235-48.
- Veenstra L, Schneider IK, Koole SL. Embodied mood regulation: the impact of body posture on mood recovery, negative thoughts, and mood-congruent recall. Cognition and Emotion. 2017 Oct 3;31(7):1361-76.