Well Are you Sitting Comfortably?

The Guardian had an article yesterday, later used for a  piece by BBC R4’s PM programme, about sitting and its relationship (or not) to developing back pain (see link below) . Entitled “Sitting Pretty, the myth of good posture” it outlined a history of and general assumptions on sitting up straight, the absence of any agreement on what is perfect posture, then claimed there was no research that showed it made any difference to your chance of developing back pain  so you are better just sitting comfortably. My initial reaction was a contained explosion followed by an email to pm about the ATEAM research that showed Alexander Technique lessons (where we do a lot about how you sit) was definitely beneficial for back pain.

Then I belatedly inhibited and read it again. It quoted two academics – one a physiotherapist and one an osteopath, plus a lecturer in ballet.  There are in fact several ideas in there that actually I agree with – just not always for the reasons given in the article:

It suggested that if you have back pain then sitting may be particularly painful, so paying attention to how you sit may help you find some relief – the ATEAM study was actually addressing this category, working with people already in chronic pain, not the prevention of future back pain.

I agree that “sitting up straight” will probably give no protective benefit long term, but that’s because most of us if asked to do so throw a lot of unnecessary effort and tension at it,  creating rather than alleviating problems.

I agree that ergonomic chairs probably do little to help or protect most people, but maybe that’s because most of us sit in them with poor balance and excessive tension (and some are just oddly designed).

I definitely agree that there is no “perfect posture” and that people differ  – in build, development and history so any one-size approach cannot fit all. That’s the joy of working in individual lessons, to help each person find their own sense of poise.

I  agree that there is probably very little research that shows posture (sitting or otherwise) as a cause of backpain. However I suspect there isn’t much research on any particular way of preventing back pain – generally more work is done to assess methods of treatment. Irritatingly the article mentions  “big studies across many countries” but there is no actual reference.

I agree that rather than looking for a “right posture, the ability to vary it and shift easily maybe very important.” This is just what the Alexander Technique helps you to achieve – that sense of poise that allows to be aware of your body and remain free, balanced and ready to move in any way.

I also agree that we should not be afraid of using our bodies to lift, stretch, sit or anything else we fancy doing. The way AT helps you get back that feeling of being ‘in your body’ makes movement enjoyable.  But sometimes AT inhibition – a pause, a thought and a choice of how to do whatever it is  – can also help.

I’m interested in the suggestion that sufficient sleep and dealing with stress are important to reduce inflammation. In my experience AT may help with these as well.

But I disagree wholeheartedly that how you do things doesn’t matter.  We may have “evolved to be able to bend and lift” but that doesn’t mean we all do it sensibly and efficiently, all the time. You may be better not thinking of  “posture”, which is something fixed and stiff.    But being aware of  habits  – the muscular tension you are using to balance your whole body at any moment,   being able to assess if those habits are helping you now and being able to choose to change if not are hugely beneficial gifts I have got from learning AT. That’s why I trained to teach it. And I can move a lot more freely now than I used to. In fact the main aches I get now are after I sit twisted and curled up when watching telly.

See Guardian article HERE

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