“Sit up straight!” Is posture improvement a worthwhile goal?
I see a lot of clients who are worried about their posture. Often, they’ll give themselves quite a tough time about this. “Oh”, they’ll say, “my posture’s terrible”.
So, are these people right to be concerned? Well, it depends. Aesthetically, certain postures are probably more appealing than others. We are constantly reminded of this by innumerable images of, mostly young, people in the media.
It’s only natural to envy actors, models and athletes for their pleasing posture and easy grace. And attempts to emulate these postures are not significantly different from any other effort to be more attractive. Feeling good about the way you look seems to me to be a worthwhile enough ambition, and if that involves trying to achieve a more idealised posture, then therapists are prepared to help. There is much bodyworkers can do here by releasing tight muscles and assisting clients to gain a better awareness of how they use and hold their bodies.
But be warned: changing your posture can be a tough, long road. Postures are not only maintained by muscles and connective tissue but by habits, physical endowment, work patterns, stress, nutrition and exercise and a multitude of environmental factors. Not all of these can be changed, or at least not without considerable effort.
In some cases therapists may in fact contribute to clients’ unease about their posture by telling them that the way they hold themselves is likely to cause them pain. Nowhere is this more common than with the so-called head forward posture. We all know what this looks like: instead of sitting squarely on the shoulders, the head juts forward. Usually, this is accompanied by elevated shoulders which are also rolled forward and a tendency for the head to tilt back somewhat.
Now this may not be a particularly attractive posture and it almost certainly puts stress on certain muscles and soft tissue structures in the body. But it is not a very reliable predictor of pain. Many people who hold themselves like this get along just fine and many other people who don’t have a head forward posture suffer from neck and shoulder discomfort.
By all means, change your posture if you want to and, if you do, it will pay to get the help of an experienced bodywork therapist to help relax or tighten the appropriate soft tissues. But don’t feel that you have to change your posture to avoid pain or restricted movement. Our bodies are surprisingly strong and resilient even without “perfect” posture.
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