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Posture and Pain

There is an issue in our society. It seems that everyone has the misplaced idea that they have bad posture. I hear it thrice daily, at least.

What is posture?

All around us, at all times, gravity is pushing down, pushing down hard. And gravity affects everything, the growth of trees, the flow of rivers, the size of waves, the fall of apples from trees and the orientation of our muscles, bones and joints.

2million years ago (approx) our ancestors began to realise there wasn’t so much food in the rainforest anymore. They would have to travel further to find food. And whilst it was fun running around on all fours it wasn’t very energy efficient. And so they began to stand up.

Standing on two legs meant that they could balance parts of their body in a relatively straight line on top of their feet.

Head on chest, chest on hips, hips on feet, knees in between.

So what is posture? Posture is the way you hold yourself on two feet, resisting the downward pressure of gravity by spreading the load in a relatively even sort of way.

But what is good posture?

Well here’s the hard part, there is no such thing. Every individual has an individual posture that they develop and grow into over time. And it is influenced by many many factors, gravity being the constant.

Genes play a role. Environment plays a role. Who you idolise plays a role. Emotions play a role. Trauma and injuries plays a role. The sports or computer games you play play a role.

And your body adapts to each of these stresses and gets used to them. Over time, I’d suggest by late teens early 20’s, you have a posture that is roughly yours.

For some this may mean they have one leg shorter than the other (approx 90% of people, it doesn’t matter if you do either, won’t cause you pain, science says so).

For others it may mean they have one shoulder higher than the other. Your shoulders may be rounded, you back may be dead straight.

It matters little as your body has adjusted to this posture and it is yours. The muscles are used to acting under the weight of gravity in this position, in your posture.

SO What is bad posture?

There is no such thing. I hate the grouping of bad and posture together. I prefer the phrase postural strain.

So what is postural strain?

Postural strain occurs when you put your body in a position that it is not used to, or in a position repeatedly, over and over without moving (I’m talking to you dear reader, have a stretch, but keep reading).

For example

You somehow come across a George Costanza wallet and sit on it in a cafe.

It’s 5cm tall sitting under you right bum cheek, it lifts your pelvis up on the right. Therefore your chest and head leaning to the left.

But to maintain eye contact and not look like the leaning tower of Costanza you shift your chest and head back over to the right.

This means the muscles in your right lower back have to contract to hold your chest and head in the middle.

Try it see how long you last.

Another example is Eddie Redwyne, the actor that recently portrayed one of my heroes Stephen Hawking. Eddie Redwyne received Osteo treatment every 2 days whilst filming.

I was recently asked why that would be. The easy answer is postural strain.

The longer answer is that he is a big strapping red head with his head on his shoulders, shoulders on hips, hips on his feet with his knees in between.

Stephen Hawking is an ALS sufferer. He is slouched in a chair with his spine bent to the left and his neck bent to the right.

Try it. Sit on your couch or chair and slump to your left, such that your right shoulder is above your left thigh and then bend your head back to the right such that your eyes are level.


For Eddie, holding this position for a long period whilst filming would have placed enormous postural strain on his body. Because his body was having to hold positions well beyond what it is used to.

So how do you prevent postural strain?

Do stuff. Do lots of different stuff. Move, move in wide and varied ways. Do yoga or pilates or Alexander technique or Feldenkrais or martial arts or dance, or play on the ground with your kids.

If you’re working in a job or have a hobby that requires to be in weird and wonderful positions don’t hold them or stay in them for too long.

Get stronger and fitter. The fitter you are the more resilient your muscles are to postural strain.

Eat well, make sure you have enough Magnesium, Zinc and Calcium in your diet. A poor diet will mean you are not fueling your muscles well enough and they will not be as resilient as you require.

Manage stress well. Being stressed ramps up the tension in muscles as well as increases your perception of pain.

If you’re someone that works at a desk and is relatively immobile, move 2min every 20min (science say so) but also check how tense your shoulders are. Do you really need them near your ears? Shoulders should hang loosely on your rib cage.

Errol St Osteo – Disenfranchising the phrase Bad Posture since 2014


The image for this blog piece comes from Forklift News, LA and Orange County. Thank you Forklift News.



Posted in : How the Body Works
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