#3 – Posture. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing?

Is good posture actually good? Does it really matter whether you have good posture? What does posture tell you about your body? Find out in today’s episode!

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Hey everybody, it’s Matt Hsu from Upright Health and I want to welcome you to Episode 3 of the Upright Health podcast. Welcome!

So, today our topic is Posture. Does it matter? What it is good for? Absolutely nothing? Huh!
Posture, I don’t think is good for absolutely nothing. I think posture is actually good for some things but it is not as good as some people may lead you to believe. So, I wanna just talk very quickly today about what posture is, what it tells you about yourself, what it tells you about others and how you can use your posture to help yourself feel good in your body.

One of my first forays into the health and fitness world was by way of really trying to find a solution for my posture. I felt like when I was standing I couldn’t take full breaths…even sitting I couldn’t take a full breath. When I was trying to skate, ice skate or roller blade, all these things I like doing training for hockey — when I would do those things I would feel out of breath very very … quickly and it felt like my chest was just being crushed all the time. I just couldn’t get in my full breath. It felt like my shoulders were rolled forward. I just couldn’t do things the way I knew I should and I just couldn’t balance as a result.

I tried a lot of things, one of the things that really helped was actually a thing called Rolfing Structural Integration. Basically, it’s a kind of body work, massage and body work, that basically aims to help you align your body up, get your joints wind up in a better position so that your whole body basically functions better. It was started by a lady named Ida Rolf, and basically she said, ‘Look, if you can get this body straight, then everything’s gonna be great’. Now that’s a very simplistic view of things, you know very simple summary of the grand scheme of it. It was basically what it boils down to, and that was what I was looking for.

I actually found that when I saw my Rolfer in San Francisco I actually got some good results. I got a reduction in pain and I was actually able to stand up much straighter than before. I had a lot of tight spots in my body. I had a lot of tight muscles that were really holding me in a slouch position and once those were released I was able to breathe again and I had better balance. Now that is not to say that having suddenly better posture fixed all my problems. It did make a strong impression on me so much so that I ended up training to become a Rolfer and that’s one of my hats now, one of the certifications that I hold.

I did this training and I sought other teachers and I worked with a lot of other Rolfers and what I eventually discovered was other people were just not able to do anything to a body in a way that would make it actually magically heal. My shoulder wouldn’t stabilize, my feet wouldn’t stop hurting, my knee and my hips they kept hurting even if I got body worked on still it would help a bit but then the problems would come right back once I started sitting and typing on a computer or just sitting around on a couch. I could just feel this gnawing, aching, agonizing irritation all over my body. The best I could do was get temporary relief for it.

So, that said if you looked at my posture it was okay. It wasn’t that bad, but there were some things still wrong with my body. I still kind of kept looking at different ways of helping people fix their posture and done some other certifications, different trainings to help look at posture as a means of intervening and helping people with pain and helping them live healthier, stronger lives. What I found over the years, I’ve been at this since 2007, is that posture is really not the only thing you need to be looking at and assessing.

My own personal experience kind of pointed towards that but it was probably about five years ago I had a guy come into my office, and this was back when I was in San Diego. He came in and he was complaining about some shoulder issues and he was complaining about some knee issues. I had him just stand there in his normal relaxed position so we could assess his posture, since I thought that’s gonna be the big key, you know, look at his posture. What I found was shocking to me!

As I looked at him and this was a fit guy standing there staring at me, I’m staring at him and he literally had zero postural problems. You looked at him from the front, his shoulders were level his head was level, there was no twisting going on in his rib cage, his pelvis was level on both sides, there was no rotation on his pelvis, his knees were pointing perfectly straight forward, his feet were perfectly straight forward, his feet were right under his hips, everything literally everything was lined up correctly, and when you look from the side, same story. This guy had perfect posture from the front and the side, there’s nothing going on when he was standing still but as soon as he started to walk that’s when you could see some of the issues. When he walks, his pelvis actually rotates asymmetrically, one of his shoulders drops low for some reason it’s almost like a lurch that he had, but his static posture, the thing that we often think about when we’re talking about posture didn’t really gave us any clues to what was going on and what might be causing his discomfort.

That was one of the key-key moments so far in my career when I said, ‘Well, obviously posture alone is not the answer’. It just doesn’t give you enough information. Now, there have been some studies done, some research studies done to try to link posture and back pain or posture and whatever knee pain — blah blah blah… normally, it’s gonna be posture and back pain — They generally find that there’s no link between posture and pain. They say, ‘Well, you know, there is no correlation between the position your spine was in whether or not you have back pain’, and I think it’s important to keep something like that in mind but also recognize that there’s a limitation to what that means.

I’ve seen articles on the internet — and it’s very very very popular these days, in certain circles, to say that posture absolutely doesn’t matter at all when dealing with pain, and I got to say I completely disagree with that. While it is true that the research says there is no obvious link between, let’s say for example, hyper lordosis (like a really strong arch in your lower back), they say there’s no link between that and back pain — you have to realize that from individual to individual you have a great deal of variation that is going to skew how any given individual responds to different stimuli. So, for example, I happen to get fat very easily if I eat certain foods. I also tend to have reactions to certain foods that other people don’t have.

The perfect example is if I eat peanuts — and please know that this kills me because I love peanut butter — but if I eat peanuts in any form, I get a little itchy. I get little spots that just make me itch.

Now, if you eat peanuts you probably, hopefully I pray for you that you do not have the same sensitivity, but when you eat peanuts you probably have no problem. If you and ten of your friends who also have no problem with eating peanuts and I all get together, as part of some scientific study, and we all eat peanuts and discover that you and your ten friends, what is that – eleven people, so, all eleven of you have no problem with peanuts but poor old me I have problems with peanuts. Our average result is that there is no correlation between peanuts and itching, right? So, we don’t need to worry about peanuts making people itch. Does that make sense?

Because what we’ve done here in this group with our little research group is discover that, yeah there was one of the test subjects who had some skin itching problems but it doesn’t seem like it’s the peanuts, right? Because we had twelve people eating this peanuts and only one person got the itching. It’s pretty tough to say probably not the peanuts. Might be, I don’t know, something else, who knows, right?

You have to look at people on an individual basis to say what really is causing their issue. I grant that not everybody’s bad posture causes them pain. I’ve seen some people with terrible posture who just had no discomfort whatsoever. I have on the flip side seen some people with just minor minor … deviations in their posture but when you corrected those deviations their discomfort went away. I mean literally just went away.

In a ‘scientific’ study that’s trying to examine the causes of back pain or whether or not posture causes pain. You have to realize that there are a ton of variables involved, that the average result of a large group study, that average result doesn’t actually give you predictive data to use for an individual in front of you. So, in our example with the peanuts, just because you know eleven out of twelve people don’t get a reaction to peanuts doesn’t mean somebody isn’t going to get a reaction from peanuts, it just means that in the study the average result was peanuts do not cause itching, except for like poor old guy who unfortunately can’t eat peanut butter anymore. I’m a little bit bitter about that in case you can’t tell.

So, what does posture tell us? Well, basically posture is gonna tell you how your body is balancing itself in the world. It tells you essentially what muscles are working and how they’re working. Obviously, it’s like giving you a whole ton of detail but if you see obvious asymmetry, you see parts of your body twisting, turning, holding themselves in awkward positions then you know that muscles are not in a position to work optimally when you then need to do more complex motions. Standing still is one of the most basic things that you can do and if you can’t do that in a balanced way then it is a good place to start to see if there’s some way to correct that to see in what other ways those imbalances are affecting your movement capacity.

So, the take away here is that your posture is not the end-all be-all but it is one piece of the puzzle that you can look at to help yourself understand what your body needs to feel good and to move well.

I hope that’s been helpful for you today. If you have questions please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] I love to hear your feedback on this podcast and I hope you keep listening and that you remember that, ‘Pain Sucks, Life Shouldn’t’.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.