We used to think there were two types of posture: “bad” posture was slumped, forward-facing and painful, while “good” posture, to avoid pain, was holding oneself upright with a straight back. However, research has accumulated over the past three decades and now we know that it’s not so simple. Whether you’re slumping or sitting up straight makes very little difference when it comes to back and neck pain: sitting is what is known as a low-load activity and puts little stress on your spine, no matter your posture.
The most important factor causing back and neck pain is actually inactivity. There is no one-size-fits-all posture, so making sure that you’re using the full range of your capabilities to keep yourself active is more important than sitting up straight to prevent backache. It’s also important to do strength and balance exercises – the NHS website has lots of useful resources for good exercises. Yoga and pilates can also be very useful to avoid back pain. Stretches that target the back, abdominal and neck muscles help with tightness from prolonged desk work.
Even if you struggle to fit in regular exercise, there are adjustments you can make to everyday life to take care of your back. Taking the stairs instead of a lift, for example, or getting off your bus a few stops early and walking the rest of the way to work. If you’re stuck in the office all day, taking a “micro-break” every half an hour is vital. This could be just standing up and stretching; an easy stretch for the office is the upper trapezius neck stretch, which targets the muscles that commonly become tense after sitting for a long time.
Instead of scaring people by telling them that their bad posture will cause them pain, we should be encouraging general activity, which will help more in the long run.