We’ve probably all been told to "sit up straight" at some point in childhood.
Good posture has long been associated with preventing back pain, but this conventional wisdom is being questioned.
Kieran O'Sullivan, senior lecturer at the University of Limerick and lead physiotherapist at the sports spine centre in Aspetar hospital, Qatar recently told the Guardian: “If you don’t have back pain, then do not give your posture one second’s thought – think about being healthy.”
Justin Fernandez, associate professor of bioengineering at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, says what’s good for one person isn’t necessarily good for another.
He’s used a kneeling chair for the last 17 years, and for him it works perfectly.
“But I’ve had a lot of other people sit on it and tell me they feel a lot of pain.”
The “right” posture depends on a host of individual characteristics such as core muscle strength, muscle loading, anatomical geometry or whether the person is an elite athlete.
“Some people find that if they try and sit up really straight they get tired, they feel muscle pain, and it’s usually because they don’t have good core muscles. It usually takes a bit of time and exercise to develop that.
“At the same time, their particular anatomy may be even pinching a nerve while they’re doing that and that causes them pain. So we always say you should generally find what works for you.”
But if there’s one piece of general advice, it’s to move about.
“The act of getting up and sitting down activates your muscles and gives you better posture, Fernandez says.
“Movement and getting up and activity is good for general spine curvature.
“The thing that’s bad to do, is to not activate your core muscles.”
Changing posture, say moving from a sitting to a standing desk, means a variety of muscles get to take the load.
“The idea behind standing desks is that you’re getting up and activating your muscles and you’re not loading one area too long.
“That’s the whole premise behind kneeling chairs – the loading goes through to your knees rather than your lower lumbar.”
As for treating back pain, that requires individual diagnosis of the cause, he says.