You have probably heard the conventional wisdom to ‘sit up straight!’ from older relatives, or been told to fix your posture in the office when you complain of back pain. It’s accepted as common knowledge that poor posture causes back pain, and that ‘correcting’ your posture to sit, stand and move in the right way will be a quick fix for the problem.
It may surprise you to hear then, that this common knowledge might have been misled. There is certainly evidence indicating that correct lifting techniques are important in certain situations – think heavy lifting, unaccustomed lifting or maximising performance in a competitive context. However, when thinking in terms of pain rather than performance, the very light loads that we experience every day might not be very important. It seems to make intuitive sense that pain may be directly linked with how we sit and stand, but there are scientific studies showing a relatively poor link between ‘bad’ postures such as slouching while sitting at work and the presence of back or neck pain for example.
Our back is a complicated part of our body, and our spine performs a lot of functions, from protecting the nerves in our spinal column, to bearing the whole weight of our body and still moving around flexibly. There are a lot of possible causes for back pain, and there is a lot of speculation about the ‘best’ way to use our backs. However, only focusing on the structure and position of our spine may be a reductive view. This belief that our body is a structure with right and wrong ways to sit, stand and move is called ‘movement pessimism’. But at Sycamore Health, we are movement optimists!
We believe that your body is made to move, and even though sitting or standing in one unnatural position for too long can certainly cause pain or discomfort, there are many other things to consider when assessing for back pain.
One thing to be mindful of is our small habits, and something called a “neurotag”. This is the name given to neurons which fire together with a physical or cognitive trigger. For those of us who have experienced back pain, we may have learned small habits that ingrain the pain we have previously experienced into our current state. We may brace our body, hold our breath, or move in odd ways that reinforce pain. A physiotherapist can teach you different habits and healthy ways to move that don’t require hypervigilance or stress. That way our body can learn to move comfortably and confidently, even at a cellular level!
Another thing you can do when you are sitting or standing in one position for a long time and experiencing discomfort is to engage in regular stretches and movement. Many of us might be out of touch with our bodies, so try to tune in and pay attention to what is feeling tight or uncomfortable. Get up and move around every chance you get, and try out some simple exercises and stretches that you can do at your desk. Our bodies are highly adaptable, and you will feel better. Try not to think of sitting or standing as bad or harmful, but rather as activities that your body is up to the challenge of performing. You can talk to your physiotherapist about individual spots such as the lower back that tend to get sore for you and they can suggest healthy, useful stretches to get your body moving and feeling better.
Remember that we are not like machines. Human beings are not merely a series of mechanical parts that would work like a robot. We are an extremely complex system influenced by biology and structure, as well as social and psychological dimensions that can augment our pain experience for better or worse. In fact, a sore back can be due to a whole range of unusual reasons. A sore back could even be affected by the amount of sleep you had the night before, because poor sleep can increase your overall experience of pain. It’s essential to remember this complexity and take a wider look at what our bodies are capable of, as well as what can go wrong. This means that you can build up your overall health by holistically responding to the bigger picture, rather than zeroing in on a small aspect such as posture.
How Sycamore can help if you’re experiencing back pain
For an individualised and holistic assessment, don’t look past your local physio at Sycamore, We can support you to build a healthy relationship with your body, and to develop healthy beliefs, and healthy range of movement. We can provide individualised treatment plans and exercises to help you to reduce pain and feel your best. While thinking about your posture may be helpful, this will more for you than pretending to be a soldier standing to attention at your desk!
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances.