Does Posture Even Matter?

Do you feel like you have bad posture?

Maybe someone has said to you before “sit up straight or you’ll end up ruining your back!” I know that I felt this way for many years especially watching my children grow. I was positive that the hours they spent hunched over in a chair were going to ruin their backs, but why did I believe this? Does hunching over in your chair or not standing up straight really cause issues in your back?

As a Pilates and Yoga teacher, I have been taught that posture is essential, but last summer during an anatomy training my MIND WAS BLOWN.

I’ll never forget Dr. Jacob Harden, our anatomy instructor, saying “Posture doesn’t matter. It’s a myth.”

Like, what? You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know how many times I have yelled at my kids to sit up straight and to stop hunching over? I was about to eat humble pie and I needed to know more, so I did a little research.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • 80% of Americans suffer from back pain.

  • Back pain is a BILLION dollar industry.

  • We have been taught that posture is important to avoid back pain.

So, is this true? What exactly is “good posture?”

Posture as defined by the Chiropractor association as:

“Posture is the position in which we hold our bodies while standing, sitting, or lying down. Good posture is the correct alignment of body parts supported by the right amount of muscle tension against gravity. Without posture and the muscles that control it, we would simply fall to the ground.”

The word “posture” comes from the Latin ponere, which means to put or place. And posture mattered to the Romans – in the reign of Tiberius, when women were finally allowed to abandon their upright posture and recline while eating, commentators warned of moral decline. (Insert eye roll here) In fact, stiffening the back only arrived in the 19th century. Before then, aristocratic fashion favored languid slouching.

Wow… it is all starting to make sense, but let’s keep going.

So is there really such a thing as “good” posture?

Most people would say there is. This theory is also reinforced by devices to prevent back pain like special chairs, standing desks, lumbar supports, special straps to keep you from slouching, and even devices that will shock you if you fail to sit up straight in your chair!

But, in all my research there is no agreed gold standard of good posture.

Ballet and Pilates teachers are more consistent about what they consider to be good posture. Most would agree that “alignment” is the key to having good posture. In fact, you can find manuals, videos, lectures, and teacher trainings on how to “align” the body perfectly, but does holding your body in perfect alignment mean you won’t experience back pain?

Shocker… there is no evidence linking posture to back pain.

Authors of a New England Journal of Medicine article found that 64 percent of people with no back pain have disc bulges or protrusions, and concluded that such spinal abnormalities are often incidental and unrelated to pain. Further studies have indicated that there is no relationship between lower back pain and disc degeneration. In fact, 85 percent of back pain has been found to have no apparent physical cause. Chronic back pain has continued to puzzle the medical community.

To date, all the research has shown that there is no relationship between any postural factors, including the shape and curves of the back, asymmetries and even the way we use our spine, to that of developing back pain. Yes, if you already have back pain, you might feel it more when sitting; but most likely your “bad posture” is not the cause of your back pain.

So, what is the cause then?

There is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. Sleep deprivation and stress are the biggest factors in causing an inflammatory response causing back pain. You may not realize it, but that 6 hours your are getting every night is actually causing your back pain. And, sorry my cheese lovers, things like dairy can have a huge effect on causing inflammation.  Next time you reach for that cube of cheddar, ask yourself if it is worth it?

So, get good sleep and don’t eat cheese? Is that it?

I wish! In one of the largest studies ever conducted on back pain, a group of researchers at the University of Washington found that psychological factors (a.k.a. stress) were more predictive of the onset of back pain than any of the physical variables analyzed. Of particular interest, they found that subjects who stated that they ‘hardly ever’ enjoyed their work tasks were two and a half times more likely to report back pain than subjects who ‘almost always’ enjoyed their work tasks.

Last but definitely not least, let’s talk about your abs. Another major cause of back pain can be lack of tone in core muscles, especially your Transverse Abdominis. This muscle acts like a corset and helps stabilize our spine and pelvis. If the TVA is weak, it can place more demand on the muscles in the back, causing the muscles to become sore and tight.

Rather than focusing on the “right posture”, the ability to move efficiently within your range of movement  (ROM) is more important. While it is appealing to think that if you sit up straight you will not get back pain, that is simply not supported by research.

Moral of the story:

Get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy diet, love your job, and do more Yoga & Pilates. 🙂

PS: If you’re interested in learning how to strengthen your core, improve your ROM, release stress, and learn to LOVE your life, become a member today and I’ll show you how.

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How was your experience?

2 Reviews
  1. Marty:
    4 years ago


  2. Libny:
    4 years ago

    Definitely mind blowing to think we’ve always been told to stand up straight. Good to know I don’t have to nag my kids lol