If you’ve been experiencing lower back pains, it’s likely that you’ve heard people saying it’s because of your incorrect posture, and that correcting your posture is the only way to get rid of your back pain. And if you seek professional advice, you might be told that your posture needs a lot of work.
It seems logical to correlate lower back pain and posture, and this correlations is also advocated by many experts. But is there evidence to back up such claims? And do you really need to bother analyzing your posture and correcting deviations from what is thought to be optimal?
Now let’s take a look at some evidence that can help us understand better the associations between measures of postural alignment and pain.
What Do Studies Say?
Most studies on correlations between posture and back pain typically use specific study designs.
In cross sectional research, experts recruit people, who are then divided into groups (those with back pain and those without back pain). Different means, like radiograph and x-ray, are used to measure spinal or pelvic alignment. Researchers look at pelvic tilt, leg length discrepancy, and degrees of curvature in the upper back, low back, or neck. Once these measurements are complete, researchers should determine whether or not there are considerable differences in postural alignment between the two groups of participants.
In prospective research, experts assess the posture of a particular group of people who are not experiencing back pain. Researchers can then determine if the participants with a certain posture are less or more likely to experience low back pain in the future.
The results from these studies aren’t clear and convincing enough, and most of them can’t prove that incorrect posture leads to back pain. However, there are some studies also that have resulted in positive associations between pain and measurements of spinal alignment. For experts, what’s clear and certain is the fact that if there is any correlation between posture and lower back pain, it is weak. This correlation is also NOT considered a causal relationship.
Why Is Posture Not Associated with Pain?
#1 – Tissues have the ability to adapt to stress over time.
The theory that back pain is caused by incorrect posture is based on the idea that wrong posture puts excess mechanical stress on specific areas of the body, which can eventually cause micro damage. This principle makes a lot of sense, of course, but it takes for granted the fact that tissues are capable of adapting to stress.
Whereas your muscles grow stronger when consistently exposed to stress of weight lifting, your tendons, ligaments, and joints can adapt as well so they can withstand the stresses caused by particular postures.
#2 – Tissue damage doesn’t cause pain.
Even if it’s true that wrong posture can cause tissue damage, this kind of damage does not necessarily equal pain. As a matter of fact, there are several studies to prove that many kinds of tissue damage happen without pain. Examples of these cases are tears in the rotator cuff, bulging discs on the knees or shoulders, and torn menisci.
Pain is too complex, and damage in the tissue is just one of the many contributors to pain. Thus, it is safe to say that even when posture results in some form of tissue damage, this will not necessarily cause pain.
#3 – Every individual is different.
Another reason why wrong posture does not automatically correlate with pain is the fact that every individual has a unique structure. By taking a look at the skeletons of different people, you’ll see a lot of differences in the shape of their spinal curves and bones.
The shape and size of one’s bones can somehow dictate the most comfortable and efficient way to sit, stand, or make movements. In short, a dysfunctional alignment for one person may be optimal for another. It is due to these individual differences that it isn’t right to compare your posture to other people and try to correct your posture to have the same posture as them.
What Should You Do to Avoid Lower Back Pains?
Instead of worrying too much about your posture, it’s more logical to identify defects or irregularities in your static posture and correct them so that your lower back pain may be alleviated. Below are some tips for you:
- When high forces are involved, be sure to keep good alignment.
When you are sitting or standing, the mechanical stresses placed on your joints are minimal. Your body is so accustomed to these kinds of stresses, so it can handle them very well. On the other hand, when you do strenuous exercises, like deadlifts, the mechanical stress is greater, and your body hasn’t adapted to those stresses. In such cases, it’s vital that you pay attention to your posture and alignments, so you can avoid injury and lower back pain.
- Mind your movement.
How you move plays an important role in the way you look when you’re sitting or standing. There’s nothing to worry about if your chest slumps when you’re sitting at work. What’s important is that you preserve your body’s ability to fully extend the chest so that you won’t have problems doing functional activities, such as rotating or overhead reaching.
- Make variations in your posture.
Many of us have to stand or sit in the same position and with the same posture for several hours every day. If you have a reason to believe that prolonged sitting is causing your body stress and pain, then it’s recommended that you have subtle variations in your posture. Remember that you need not strive for perfect posture all the time. Instead, you have to look for a position or posture that will give you comfort. You should also keep moving and take frequent breaks.
- The Importance of Good Movement
If you want to experience lasting relief from lower back pains, you shouldn’t focus too much on trying to correct your static posture so that you could conform to some ideal, because your posture isn’t likely to be the cause of your back pain. What you should do instead is to find a way to be comfortable. Remember to keep moving as well, and work on improving your function. The most important thing is for you to use good form and alignment in everything that you do.