Here at Not Just Backs, after taking a health history from a patient, typically the first thing we do is take a look at them whilst standing. At which point, they often stand there rather stiffly.
Sometimes this is due to pain or self-consciousness, but usually I think it’s because they feel they must have ‘perfect posture’ in my presence because I’m an osteopath.
In truth, I’m not particularly interested in ‘perfect posture’, I am interested in you, standing in front of me right there. I’m interested in how your body has adapted and coped with the changes and experiences you have been through, how movement translates through your body and what is stopping you from functioning as well as you would like.
So here’s a tip if you find yourself in this position: Stand like you would at a bus stop. That way I can see how you usually hold yourself.
Of course, people frequently ask me “Do you think I have bad posture?”
Good posture, bad posture – these are not helpful terms because our overall posture is incredibly difficult to change. This is particularly true as we get older.
Sure, there are exercises and better ways of doing things which will reduce postural strains on certain areas of our bodies. In fact I educate patients on these types of exercises and lifestyle changes all the time.
We have to work hard at making these subtle changes and it is usually well worth it. But the goal shouldn’t be a dramatic change in how we hold ourselves, rather reduced pain, improved function and ensuring posture doesn’t get worse is the aim.
Noticeably changing the way we present ourselves to the world is going to take more than stretching and strengthening a few muscles. This is because our posture is an expression of ourselves: our genes, our upbringing, our emotions and a lifetime of experiences.
I think the good posture / bad posture concerns that many of us have stem from the messages drummed into us since childhood: “Stand up straight”, “Pull your tummy in and push those shoulders back”.
The badgering we got as kids however is somewhat justified, because posture is much more significant and adaptable in children.
Whilst kids’ bones and muscles are still growing, their posture and habits will influence their adult posture. They will also to some extent influence their likelihood of getting muscular and other joint problems as they get older.
As adults however, rather than worrying excessively about changing our posture, perhaps it would be better to focus on not having a fixed posture at all.
By that I mean focus on moving more often, and not sitting or standing static for hours on end. Bear that in mind next time you find yourself slouching at your desk…
Give us a call on 01722 512 521 if you’d like further advice on posture, exercises or back care, and we’ll be more than happy to advise you.