If you have ever experienced pain, you have probably heard that it’s because of your posture. We’ve always been told that poor posture can result in pain – “You have back pain because you slouch too much”, or “Your knees hurt because they go past your toes when you squat”, or “If you don’t sit up straight all day, you’ll feel it at the end of the day”.
The topic of posture and pain is highly debated, and much more complex than what is conventionally believed. Keep reading to learn more!
What does scientific evidence say?
Studies have shown that posture alone is not significantly linked to pain. When analyzing groups of people with different postures, those who experienced pain were not always the ones with “poor” posture. This means that “poor” posture is not necessarily a prerequisite to pain. In fact, the experience of pain is influenced by a multitude of factors. Things like fear, habits, stress or anxiety levels, perceptions or beliefs about pain, and tissue health have all been shown to influence one’s pain. Posture can also be one of these factors and can in fact influence one’s pain, however, it is not the ONLY factor. Whether or not you experience pain is determined by many different contexts, and everyone has an individual different set of circumstances.
Are there situations where posture DOES matter?
While I do believe that there is an overemphasis of posture on pain, there are still some implications where posture does matter. As mentioned above, posture can in fact influence one’s pain, but it is not the only factor. Posture may have a greater influence, for example, in acute injuries or when lifting heavy loads (i.e. weightlifting). However, in most situations, posture does not play a key role in the development of pain. Instead, we need to look at the other factors that can influence pain experiences, such as fear, stress, anxiety, and/or beliefs about pain. New theories believe that it isn’t just “bad” posture that can result in pain, but rather unvaried postures. That means it doesn’t matter whether you have “good” or “bad” posture, but if you are adopting only one posture for a prolonged period of time, that will result in pain. Varying your posture allows you to distribute the stresses to your body, rather than having them all focused in the same places. There is less emphasis on posture itself, and more focus on varying your postures throughout the day.
Overall, posture does have a role in pain experiences, however it should not always be the main culprit. Instead, focusing on other factors like beliefs about pain, stress management, mental health, and increasing load tolerance can have greater benefit. Physiotherapy can help not only in with improving posture (when it’s indicated), but also with improving the other factors related to your pain experience.
By Rebecca Chow