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One of the most common topics of conversation in a physiotherapy clinic is posture, with many people saying they’ve been told their posture is “poor”, “misaligned” or they need to take action to “correct bad posture” to avoid pain.

But what is “bad posture” and is it something we need to correct or worry about?

What does posture mean?

Posture is much more than just one position, it is a dynamic and ever changing process of multiple positions which your body uses to adapt to and perform the tasks you are asking of it.

Posture is made up of muscle contractions, automatic reflexes and habits, which can be affected by activity, your job or even your mood.

Why can poor posture be a problem?

Poor posture means your body has adopted a position that isn’t comfortable, putting unnecessary strain on your body, which may cause you pain. Thus, it is important to address underlying problems initially, with a plan to correct bad posture in the future.

Most poor posture is your body’s way of coping with other issues such as:

Muscle weakness

If you have a desk based job, it’s possible you overwork the muscle on the front of your body, leaving the muscle on the back of your body (postural muscles) less likely to have the strength required to hold you upright.

Lack of flexibility

With overuse comes shortening or decreased flexibility of muscles, which can cause difficulty when trying new positions and postures. A lack of a flexibility can also relate to stiffness in joints, which may also cause discomfort.

Poor tolerance to that position

If you are not used to performing an activity in a certain position, your body can take time to adapt. This is also the same if you have avoided a position, for example you’ve had back pain which was worse when standing so you have spent more time sitting down. To correct bad posture and adapt, you may need to increase the amount of time you spend in that position little by little.

Habits e.g. slouched sitting or holding the phone with your shoulder

We’ve all got bad habits, some of which can be the way in which we move or even don’t move. Sitting slouched, holding the phone with your shoulder or looking down to text are NOT bad postures. They only become a problem if you stay like this for a long time or repeat the same position to the point of discomfort.

Lack of activity

In the UK, 4 out of 5 of us have a desk based job and a decrease in our activity levels has occurred over time. Our ancestors didn’t have to worry about sitting at computers all day. We’re now less active for long periods of the day, which our bodies are not designed for. We have a similar anatomical make up to many animals who move a lot more than we do. Do we think they have postural pain? Probably not.

A lack of activity can cause all of the above issues; muscle weakness, decreased flexibility, joint stiffness, increased habits, poor fitness and a multitude of health issues!

Your body is very skilled at adapting to what you physically ask of it, so if that’s very little… you may have a problem!

So, is it important to correct bad posture?

The answer isn’t to correct bad posture, but to find ways to encourage your body to adapt to the positions you are asking of it. This puts less strain on your body, which may be the cause of your discomfort or pain.

So how can you do this?

Prompts

Use prompts to help with remembering to change your posture. In order to break habits, such as sitting in one position for too long, you’ll need to be reminded to keep you from continuing to do it!

If one position or posture hurts, move or do the opposite. For example: If you are sitting slumped over a desk with your chest and shoulders rounded, try the opposite of this. Sit up, open your chest and draw shoulders back. It may feel uncomfortable at first if you’re moving stiff joints and stretching muscles, but see how it feels to stay here for a while.

  • Try taking all your phone calls standing up
  • Scheduling a tea round so you get up and move away from your desk
  • Move when checking social media

Find new postures or positions and then practice the behaviour

Find alternative ways of doing different activities or sitting, for example:

Equipment or physical prompts

  • Think about your desk set up at work. Is there anything that can be changed to help with any bad habits?
  • Use pillows to help change sleep position

Taping

Taping has been shown to provide a physical prompt in adapting positions and postures. Your physiotherapist can help with this and then provide specific exercises to encourage your body to adapt longer term.

Increase general activity and exercise

Trying to increase your general activity level can help to alleviate some of the issues of prolonged inactivity.

  • Take regular breaks from your desk
  • Sign up for lunch time exercise
  • Join a gym close to work or home
  • Find a buddy to walk with at lunch time

See a Physiotherapist at Capital Physio

Although the tips above can help, if you do have pain it’s best to get a comprehensive assessment from a chartered physiotherapist to establish the cause. We can then provide a tailored treatment plan comprising of both hands on and hands off treatment.

It is much more effective to address any specific problem areas and solve underlying problems before you begin to correct bad posture. Get in touch with one of our experienced physiotherapists today for more information.

Article by Charlotte Walker, Chartered Physiotherapist at Capital Physio.

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