3 menn, sitter med hver sin holdning; krumbøyd, henslengt og rett i ryggen
Date: 18/01/2023

Posture and pain

Key points

  • Most people have heard that good posture and “ergonomically correct seated positions” are protective for the back. That’s not entirely correct.
  • Even the most “correct postures” can cause pain.
  • The problem usually isn’t how you sit or stand, and we can’t blame pain on posture.
  • We are made to move. Next position is the best position. Varying movements and staying active is more protective than how you sit or stand.
  • “Correct posture” isn’t a thing. All postures are useful and should be used.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase “Watch your back, sit up straight!” A lot of patients we physiotherapists see are worried that their poor posture is causing them pain. They’ve heard that they’re not sitting straight enough, or that their standing posture is too slouched.

But can you really blame your pain on your posture?

There is no seated posture that will keep you pain free

We’ve probably all been taught to straighten our backs. Pull our shoulders back. Sit straight. There are specific recommendations for “erconomically correct seated positions” for office workers. We want to share a secret with you, that in our opinion is too well kept:

You can sit with the most ergonomically correct posture, and still get pain from sitting there.

Let’s do an experiment. Lift your arm out to the side and hold it there. How long can you hold it for? You’ll probably notice discomfort and the arm feeling heavy within short time. If you keep holding, the discomfort might spread, probably to your neck and back. And if you keep holding, the discomfort becomes pain.

Sitting requires muscle strength. When you’re seated, your postural muscles, your core, shoulders, neck, back, they’re all working while you’re sitting. If you’re not moving around, they’re working “statically”, i.e. holding one position.

That means that if you stay seated for a period of time, your core, shoulders, neck and back are at constant work, just like your arm when you were holding it out to the side. The same way your arm started to feel uncomfortable and painful, your postural muscles will start aching at some point when they get tired and overworked from sitting for too long.

As you might have deduced; the problem isn’t your seated posture. The problem is that you stay seated for too long in the same posture.

But what if I not only have poor seated posture, but all around poor posture?

Do you feel like your posture is bad when you’re walking, sitting, standing? And are you worried that is causing your back pain or shoulder pain? In theory, your posture can explain your discomfort, yes. But not because your posture is “poor”. It’s more likely that you’re spending too much time in that same position. You’re not giving the muscles the varied movement they need during the day. This is true for both those with so called “poor” posture, and those with so called “good” posture. A straight back that is kept straight and “correct” all day without variation and movement can also start aching. Muscles hate it when they are kept at static work, but they love it when you move around and use it within all the ranges of movement it has!

The thing is, we humans are made to move. Static positions or static postures isn’t natural for us. All different kinds of movement are correct. All kinds of postures are correct. There is a reason that your body can bend forwards, backwards, can sit straight and slouch. These are all natural positions for your body, and none of them are wrong. It would be weird if nature made it so that we easily could “slip into” positions and postures that were bad for us and that could potentially harm us. Any movement your body can do, is good for your body. The more different postures and movements you do during the day, the more you’ll feel flexible, strong and pain free.

Stop watching your back

The best thing you can do, it not to watch your back so much. Don’t be afraid to use it. Thinking that the only position that is good for you is the one where you’re straight like a stick, is like thinking that the only usefull room in your house is your kitchen. Yes, you need a kitchen, but I bet there are other parts of your house you like to use too. You have a lot of different movements and postures, use them all the same way you use all the rooms in your house – they’re all useful!

Maybe you’d be interested in reading our article on Correct technique when exercising? Go to the article HERE

Correct posture isn’t a thing, and the best posture is the next posture. In other words, keep moving!