In a time where we are fed article titles that boast ‘best ergonomic chair’ and standing desks for home office, we have become obsessed with the idea of perfect posture and those devices marketed to us to correct ‘bad posture’. But what are we really looking for with these devices and what are we getting out of them?
Reducing and Minimizing
I would say these ergonomic devices are capitalizing on the fact that we are taking less time for ourselves and providing us with a quick fix to a complex problem. This is not to say these types of tools do not have utility. However, let us be critical in assessing how big a role they play in our health.
Input, Information, and Maybe a Bit of a Crutch
These tools provide us with feedback, cues to our brain and body to shift our weight, move, and ultimately be more mindful of where we are in space. But does the often lofty price tag justify the purchase? I would generally say no, a chair valued at $2000 is not going to be the miracle cure for changing how you move. If anything, we may lean on those ‘ergonomic’ and ‘supportive contours’ rather than allowing our body to do the work to support us. However, a small standing desk to help you move in your workday can be helpful to break up the monotony of sitting and staring at a screen all day. But, why are we so obsessed with posture? What does ‘bad posture’ mean clinically? And why is this important when we talk about pelvic health?
All the Feels
How we position ourselves in space is, at its base level, how our nervous system feels. Think about when we are unhappy or insecure. We get small, huddled in, we grind our teeth and scrunch up our shoulders. Our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight part of the brain) kicks in. This part of our brain gets switched on by perceived stressors and those stressors don’t have to be big. They can be as mundane as a business meeting you’re dreading or a phone call you don’t want to make. Our body protects us, postures us to be on ‘defense’. However, we can get stuck in this pattern and when we get stuck, we hit the snooze button on adaptability. Adaptability is what we need from our body to move with us rather than against us. So, to put simply, good posture makes us feel good. We can breathe more easily, our nervous system calms, and our muscles are in a place to support us.
Stop Calling it ‘Bad Posture’
So what is bad posture anyways? As a person, I do not like the labels ‘good’ and ‘bad’. There is nothing about our bodies that is bad. Our bodies are strong, hard-working, and allow us to experience everything. Now, I do think that there are maladaptive postures, postures that work against rather than for us. Forward head, excessively arching or tucking the back, rounding the shoulders - these are all postures that set us up for pain. The body is positioned in a way where it has to essentially figure out a detour to execute a function. Meaning, it can’t move in the way it was designed because of positioning, so it figures out another way. Unfortunately, this solution is often maintained long-term and we experience pain because we are operating on our body’s backup plan for movement.
The Posture-Pelvic Link
So, we know posture changes how we feel. It changes how we move. It influences pain. But how does that relate to the pelvic floor?
1. The nervous system: If we are operating and posturing in a fight or flight way, our pelvic floor muscles can start guarding against the perceived threat/stressor. Now, if the pelvic floor gets stuck into one mode, it cannot provide its full function. Meaning, it will not be as supportive, will not help stabilize the back as well, and will become weaker.
2. Pressure and Load: For those science buffs, let’s exercise our brains and think about the body and force. If we place a moving box on a table that is 5 pounds, we need a certain amount of force to lift it, right? Now, if that moving box is moved farther away from us, we will need to recruit more of our muscles to help us lift it. The farther away the box, the more force we need from our body to move it. So, let’s think about the head and how it is positioned on top of the pelvis. Average weight of a head is about 11 pounds. If we move that 11 pounds forward 1 inch, we put more pressure down on the pelvic floor. Our pelvic floor was designed to support the head as it sits over our rib cage and pelvis. It was not designed to work its best when the head is forward. So, ultimately when we put too much pressure down on the pelvic floor, it can weaken and will have trouble working effectively because of this additional pressure.
Therefore, we need neutral posture so that our nervous system is nourished and our muscles work effectively and pain-free. Posture is an integral part of a pelvic health assessment. It is why in pelvic health PT, the treatment is so much more than kegels. Pelvic health PT is about bringing more balance, more neutrality in how you move through space so that your body spends its time working for you so you can live your best life.
For more pelvic floor, nervous system and wellness tips and education, follow me at @ashleynewton_dpt and @activcoreprinceton_pelvic
Learn more about what a healthy pelvis can do for you, by checking out our pelvic health page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.