Posture and Comfort

by Hugh Babington Smith

What happens if posture is poor?

In each of the areas of joints, muscles and nerves there can be effects of malalignment. These ill effects may start out as very slight and they may remain at a very low level but, if the cause does not disappear, they will get worse and may become intolerable.

Postural pain

Malaligned joints and ligaments may just feel uncomfortable, or they may ache or hurt. Shearing forces in the spine may affect the discs, putting pressure on the nerves that fan out from the spine.

Muscles will suffer through lack of circulation, which may manifest itself in discomfort, aching or pain, as well as lack of performance or tiring quickly. The body’s healing process is impeded when blood-flow and cellular exchange are restricted.

Pain may arise when nerves are stretched or inflamed by malalignment. Again, the symptoms may range from discomfort, through tingling, pins and needles, hot or cold feelings or numbness to pain. A characteristic of nerve damage is that sometimes the symptom is not in the place where the damage is being caused. For instance, damage to a nerve in the lower back may cause tingling in the thigh or pain around the ankle.

Damage may be slow, taking years to appear, or it may be very quick, when the forces are great and applied unexpectedly. It can occur, for instance, through lifting a heavy weight badly or losing control of a powerful and heavy machine.

Note

The origin of pain may not be logical, and it may be private

A valued employee developed a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). The company did everything they could think of to resolve the problem, but to no avail. He was absent for two years before the condition resolved and he came back to work.

It was only later that the company discovered that he was an avid piano player who, before his absence, practised four hours a night... sitting in a bad position.

The effects of these symptoms will carry across to whatever the individual is doing. If you are in pain or discomfort, your concentration and attention to the task in hand will be disturbed. A sportsman cannot perform properly when suffering even slightly; the office worker is no different.

If concentration and attention are reduced, tasks will take longer, mistakes will be made and will need to be rectified and the quality of work will be lower.

Why do we have poor posture?

There are two sides to this: physical and mental.

Physically, the short answer – going right back to fundamentals – is that we are hunter-gatherers, with our roots on the savannah, where we evolved to spend our days wandering in search of berries or pursuit of prey, and we are no longer doing what we evolved to do. We are emphatically not designed to spend our days sitting on our bottoms staring fixedly at a screen or a road, or engaged in any of the other activities of modern life that are so far from our origins.

Mentally, we have unnatural pressures that bear on us all the time. No doubt the link between posture and attitude derives from relationships within our hunter-gatherer community – authority, submission, joy, sadness and so on – but today life is complicated by the sheer variety and duration of circumstances and information that affect us. Thus a person with an oversized mortgage, an unpleasant commute and an unhappy job will tend to have a worn-out demeanour and with the posture to show it: rounded shoulders and wrongly-curved spine.