The “Perfect” Posture: Position vs. Posture
Written by Dr. Thomas Little, PT, DPT
This post will provide you with the tools and strategies for improving strength/mobility and decreasing pain all while at work! These principles apply to both working at home and in the office (standing desk or sitting).
Setting the Stage
Improved function (strength, mobility, etc.) is not something that occurs solely from a 1-hour workout.
Rather, it is the product of our daily routines.
In short, no posture is “perfect” (Spoiler!). The idea that you should constantly maintain a “perfect” posture ignores that the human body craves movement and is consistently interacting with our external environments (e.g., computer). The reinforcement of optimal postures should occur, but “perfect” posture education alone is often ineffective due to poor long-term adherence. “Perfect” posture assessments typically occur via checklists you are most likely familiar with (Figure 1).
Even maintaining the “perfect” posture for prolonged periods is not optimal!
The use of the term position should be encouraged instead of posture. This is because posture is traditionally viewed as static state held for a long duration, whereas position is viewed as a temporary state that is constantly changing. Position is strongly linked to the medical term proprioception, which is your nervous system telling you WHERE your body is in space. Furthermore, proprioception implies that understanding your body’s position is a prerequisite for effective and quality movement, given you must recognize WHERE your body is in space before you can decide HOW to move. Position can be broken down by individual joints in the body, and if there is not optimal positioning in one body area, another region will compensate to make up the difference.
The internal sense of the relative position of the body’s musculoskeletal units with each other and the effort needed to move them.¹
For example, if there isn’t appropriate shoulder positioning (no internal rotation [bringing your hand towards your belly]) while attempting to drink from a water bottle, your other body regions (elbow, hand/wrist, neck) must compensate to ensure the water gets to your mouth (Figure 3). This reinforces the interconnectedness between body regions and the idea that the “problematic” region may not be the cause (e.g., the best way to help reduce neck pain may be by changing the position of the lower back).
Ergonomics education alone, such as the checklist from the beginning of this post (Figure 1), has suspect effectiveness for reducing incidence of pain, however when combined with movement-based interventions there are significant reductions in new episodes of pain.² Meaning ergonomics should be addressed from a movement perspective (dynamic). Rather than maintaining the “perfect” posture throughout the day, we can instead subconsciously reinforce ideal positioning through muscle activation and movements.
The most effective approach to improving your position is through the concept of “Tiny Habits” popularized by Dr. BJ Fogg.³
- Identify your routines
- Identify small movements
- Combine your routines with small movements.
+ Small Movement
Example: (2 air squats)
Identify Your Routines
This can include any frequent activities be throughout your workday such as:
- Drinking from your water bottle/coffee cup
- Starting a meeting
- Printing a document
- Using the restroom
Identify Small Movements
Some small movement examples are:
- Shoulder squeezes
- Neck stretches
Combine Routine + Small Movement
Every time you perform your routine you also perform a small movement.
An example would be for every email sent, you contract (“squeeze”) your shoulders and glutes together which ultimately bolsters awareness of your bodily position time.
Movement-based ergonomics reinforce the optimal positions we are always attempting to achieve through muscle activation.
1. proprioception. (n.d.). In: Segen’s Medical Dictionary. ; 2011. https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/proprioception. Accessed April 12, 2020.
2. de Campos TF, Maher CG, Steffens D, Fuller JT, Hancock MJ. Exercise programs may be effective in preventing a new episode of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Physiother. 2018;64(3):159-165. doi:10.1016/j.jphys.2018.05.003
3. B.J. Fogg. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything; 2020.