Most people will experience symptoms of tightness, stiffness, aching or pain at some point in their life. Sometimes these symptoms are associated with the tasks we do each day, or the posture we are in when we do them. This article discusses why that is.
Most people have an understanding of what posture means, but not how it can affect them in everyday life. The Google definition of posture is “the position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting”. While this is essentially correct, the definition should probably include any position we put ourselves in (lying, running, cycling, rowing etc.).
While posture may be a key factor in pain and injury, the evidence to support this isn’t conclusive. There are other factors which also influence symptoms. Nevertheless, posture has an important role in pain/injury and in physiotherapy intervention for some patients’ conditions.
Posture may not become important until you have pain. Once pain is present you may find you can’t tolerate the same amount of postural loading in your normal postures as you did before.
How much postural loading is good for us?
Our postures apply a daily load on our body. Exercise, work, stress and everyday life can create an overload beyond our level of tolerance. For example, if you start a new job that involves a lot of sitting you might find yourself being less active throughout the day. This in turn can create soreness. By sitting for shorter periods, and taking regular breaks, you can avoid postural overloading.
Type of loading:
The way we hold ourselves influences the body tissues that are under load. Slouched positions use less energy but load our sensitive joints, ligaments and muscles. This in turn can cause pain.
Conversely, using our postural muscles burns energy. If we stay in a position for a long time these muscles can become sensitive. Once again this can cause us to experience pain.
Assessment of postural loading:
A physiotherapy assessment that looks at how to improve postural loading can help manage persistent symptoms or aid in settling acute pain.
Some examples of postural loading influences include:
- The tilt of your chair.
- Neck movement can be influenced by the position of your spine in sitting. In some cases changing this can improve your neck symptoms, as well as its range of movement.
- Stress – it may be that your posture hasn’t changed but your pain sensitivity/sensation tolerance has decreased due to stress. This can cause your normal postural loading to cause you pain.
General tips to consider regarding postural loading:
- No posture is wrong for everyone or anyone, but the postural loading behaviour may be a problem.
- Think about total postural loading with components of frequency, duration and type of postures.
- Consider total loading from other activity and its influence on postural loads.
- Any prolonged positions can cause discomfort, more so at end-ranges of movement.
- Movement and variation of positions is useful to help prevent or manage symptoms.
- Different postures suit some people better than others, and posture may or may not be related to symptoms.
- Postural loading tolerance can change over time.
If you have any concerns about how postural loading could be causing you pain or stiffness, then please feel free to discuss this with any of our Physiotherapy team.
About the Author:
Jacob Glover is a Physiotherapist and has recently completed his Masters at La Trobe University in musculoskeletal physiotherapy. Through work and study, Jacob has gained extra experience in postural loading in the occupational setting. He also enjoys all aspects of private practice physiotherapy, including sports injuries and rehabilitation.