(Originally published as an article for Imbue Pain Relief Patch)

Bad posture has many forms. It’s not just the slouching that mothers like to point out. There are all sorts of ways in which our positioning can produce significant stress on our muscles and joints (and even our internal organs). Postural stress can potentially be the sole cause of debilitating, career-ending pain.

There are two main factors that characterize postural stress. First, the body is put in a position that cannot be sustained in a healthy way. Second, this position is held for an extended period or is done habitually. Tilting your head to one side for a few moments is not a problem. Talking with a phone between your ear and your shoulder for several minutes at a time constitutes postural stress. Doing it multiple times a day for years is a recipe for chronic pain.

Postural stress is a form of stagnation, plain and simple. And a fundamental principle of Chinese Medicine is that all pain is caused by stagnation. When we hold a part of the body in an asymmetric, unnatural, or off-center way, it’s like putting a kink in a hose. The flow of energy, blood, lymph, food, or nerve impulses through the kinked region becomes impeded. Conversely, good posture promotes good flow.

It’s worth making a habit of noticing your posture throughout the day (including your sleeping position at night). But if you have trouble remembering to do that, your focus is probably best spent in two areas – your work situation and your exercise regimen.

First thoroughly examine your work circumstances – where and how you do the bulk of your tasks during the day. Do you stand at a counter? Sit at a desk? Slouch on a couch? Drive a vehicle? Carry a baby? Crouch in a garden? Stabilize a jackhammer? Is there a position you find yourself in for hours every day? Is there something you do that feels like a strain? Over weeks, months, or years, this is likely to set you up for some pain. Furthermore, I find that patients who sit all day at a desk often have rounded shoulders and a sunken chest, so their lungs and heart are sort of stifled, and their breathing is shallow and often rapid.

Take a close look at the habitual postures – and, better yet – have someone else watch you and give you feedback. If possible, adjust your positioning, change your work station, and try to engage your whole body, rather than just a small part of it. If there’s an ergonomics specialist or occupational therapist available to you who does work station assessments, by all means, get their help. Meanwhile, imagine your body is being suspended by a thread that is attached to the very top of your head. Lift and open. This allows your organs the proper space, keeps you aligned,  and everything just works better.

Good posture is especially vital during exercise. Poor form while exercising can set us up for serious injury, and then we may be unable to exercise at all until we recover. Then whatever gains we’ve made through our exercise regimen may be lost. I believe good form is the most important factor in healthy exercise. It’s more important than how much weight we lift or how long we work out for. Imagine you’re a model for a workout video, trying to perform your exercises with perfect posture. Again, keeping the whole body engaged helps you avoid injury, keeps your posture good, and tends to provide a much better workout.

I always love to hear your feedback. What do you do to remind yourself to sit up straight? Has poor posture had a negative impact on you, or good posture saved your life?

 

Copyright 2012 by Peter Borten. No reproduction in any form without permission.