The first thing an osteopath usually does after taking a health history from a patient, is look at them standing. At this point, patients often stand there stiffly. Sometimes this is due to pain or self-consciousness, but often I think it is because they feel they must have ‘good posture’ because I am an osteopath. In fact, I am often asked, “Do I have bad posture?”But I’m not particularly interested in ‘good posture’, I am interested in that person, in front of me now: how their body has adapted and coped with the changes and experiences they have been through, how movement translates through their body and what is stopping them function as well as they would like to.
So I often encourage patients to, ‘stand like you would at a bus stop’ to see how they usually hold themselves. At this point, people frequently ask me ‘Do you think I have bad posture?’
Good posture, bad posture – these are not helpful terms because our overall posture is incredibly difficult to change. This is particularly true as we get older. Sure, there are exercises and better ways of doing things which will reduce postural strains on certain areas of our bodies. In fact I educate patients on these types of exercises and lifestyle changes all the time (and have even written a couple of articles packed with exactly these type of tips for new parents and desk workers).
We have to work hard at making these subtle changes and it is usually well worth it. But the goal shouldn’t be a dramatic change in how we hold ourselves, rather reduced pain, improved function and a decreased likelihood of posture getting worse. Noticeably changing the way we present ourselves to the world is going to take more than stretching and strengthening a few muscles. This is because our posture is an expression of ourselves: our genes, our upbringing, our emotions and a lifetime of experiences.
I think the good posture / bad posture concerns that many of us have stem from the messages drummed into us since childhood: ‘stand up straight’, ‘pull your tummy in and push shoulders back’ (oh, the endless ballet classes!).
The badgering we got as kids however is somewhat justified, because posture is much more significant and adaptable in children. Whilst kids’ bones and muscles are still growing, their posture and habits will influence their adult posture. They will also to some extent influence their likelihood of getting muscular and other joint problems in the future.
As adults however, rather than worrying excessively about changing our posture, perhaps it would be better to focus on not having a fixed posture at all. By that I mean focus on moving more often, and not sitting or standing statically for hours on end. This outlook would be far better for our health, our bodies and our sense of well-being.
Emma Lipson is Principal Osteopath at Feel Better Osteopathy in Warwick, Warwickshire.
Over to you…
If you enjoyed this article, please like, share or comment below. If you disagree, or have your own thoughts about posture, I would also love to hear your views.
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