What is "Bad posture"?


We’ve heard it since we were young:

“Sit up straight.”

“Don’t slouch.”

“Pull your shoulders back.”

“Your posture is bad.” 

But what does that actually mean? Is there in fact one best posture out there? 

In reality, no there isn’t. 

First of all, the human spine is strong. It will not become structurally damaged or become injured from sitting in one particular way. That’s not to say it won’t hurt, because it might.

But the opposite might actually apply. Sometimes people feel better with slouching.

I see it in the clinic often – someone comes in with chronic back pain, however they sit in my office completely slumped, and head forward in front of their shoulders. I ask them if sitting makes their pain worse – or if they are in pain right now – and often the answer is no.

So why are we quick to jump to pulling that person out of that posture?

What are beginning to see is that it’s not a particular posture that’s bad, it’s remaining in one posture for too long that’s bad.

There’s been a lot of debate and research on this topic, especially over the past 10 years.

When we look at what’s actually happening in the muscles when we sit in a slumped or erect posture, there’s not a lot of difference. Meaning your muscles aren’t “working harder,” or “pulling you into a bad position,” if you aren’t sitting up “straight.”

There’s no literature that supports posture affecting joint position long-term, or creating muscle imbalances.

The opposite applies too – we can’t actually pull our body into different positions and expect it to say there. There’s no literature that has demonstrated any stretching or strengthening program to change the resting position of the shoulder blades or spine.

Which makes sense because as I heard in a professional development course one time - we don’t walk around in full elbow flexion and T-Rex arms all day every day, even though we have people training heavy bicep curls non-stop. 

At the end of the day – posture is really just adaptability. We train our body to adapt to lifting weights, and participating in sports or physical activity. We train our body to give us more accessibility through yoga, stretching, foam rolling or Kinstretch. We can train posture in a similar way.

”Posture is really just adaptability.”

What to Do Next

Quick things you can do to help combat some discomfort from being at a desk all day:

1) Move often – Sit in a way that feels good, and recognize when your body is signalling you to make a change.

2) Separate performance from low level daily life – Posture can be much more important when you’re lifting something heavy, or performing a technical sport. 

3) Find a daily mobility routine that works for you – Your joints are designed to move, and we should move them through a full range of motion, every single day.

4) Keep your desk or workstation accessible – Don’t fill every surface with something; leave space so you can move your keyboard or mouse around, use an adjustable chair so you can change the height, or consider standing when you answer the phone (if you don’t have a sit-to-stand desk).

I hope this helps you recognize that sitting slouched is not the enemy - rather sitting constantly in the exact same or forced position day in day out, is!

Megan Pomarensky