A posture corrector may seem like an easy fix, but they often do more harm than good.
With many of us spending so much time at our desks, crammed on commutes or looking at our phones, our shoulders are becoming increasingly hunched, and our backs more and more sore. In fact, according to the British Chiropractic Association, inactivity is one of the leading causes of backpain in the UK.
It is little wonder, then, that posture correctors have recently seen a boom in popularity, according to Monica Blackburn, an osteopath at MFB Osteopathy. Often aimed at office workers whose sedentary lifestyles are causing them discomfort, these devices are worn around the shoulders and upper back, and they hold these parts of the body in an upright position.
While this may sound like a good idea for those of us who just can’t seem to keep our shoulders straight throughout the day, they actually tend to cause problems elsewhere in the back and encourage a passive approach to practising good posture. As a result, many specialists actually advise against them.
We spoke to three osteopaths whose view on posture correctors is less than favourable, to ask them what is so harmful about these devices, and what people should be doing to improve their posture.
What’s the big deal about posture?
First things first, we need to establish why posture is so important. Monica explains that posture is “important to our overall health and wellbeing, because it reduces strains through the body that can build up over time”. However, she doesn’t like to wax lyrical about “good” versus “bad” posture, “as what’s really important is movement and not getting stuck in a posture”.
You see, while hunching and slouching does have a detrimental impact on your back, so-called “bad” posture itself is unlikely to be the primary cause of your pain. Rather, “it’s being sedentary and keeping the same position for long hours without moving” which will be causing the greatest amount of strain, according to Charlotte Mernier, an osteopath at My Osteo London.
Rebecca Root, an osteopath and owner of Balanced Osteopathy, also wants us to bear in mind that “there is no one good posture that research tells us is associated with less pain in all individuals”. Everyone is different, and an ideal posture for one person might cause discomfort in someone who is less used to holding their body in that way.
How do posture correctors work?
The way posture correctors work is by holding the body in a so-called “good” posture and preventing you from slouching forwards. But, as Rebecca pointed out, there is no one single posture that is good for everyone. In fact, the posture that a corrector forces people to adopt might not even be achievable for some wearers without stretching and physical therapy. As a result, Rebecca has found that “these devices usually lead to people sitting with a very tense mid back, because their shoulders are not able to do what the posture corrector is trying to achieve”.
According to Charlotte, the fact that posture correctors “keep the patient in the same position and limit movement” is similarly problematic, since “it is actually the lack of movement that can lead to back pain”.
Long-term usage of a posture corrector can also lead to over-reliance, which, as Monica explains, can lead to your body becoming lazy. If you are struggling with your posture, it is important to strengthen the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Without “training the postural muscles to do the work they’re designed to do”, over time they will become even weaker.
What should we do to improve our posture?
Rather than relying on a device that holds your body in a rigid and likely uncomfortable position for long periods of time, it’s important to take a more active role in improving your posture.
Rebecca advises all of her patients “to take regular breaks from their desks”. This is often easier to do when working from home, but also easier to avoid. In fact, Rebecca has found that more and more of her patients have been staying at their work for longer periods than usual while under lockdown. Monica suggests we counteract this by making sure we move little and often throughout the day. This can involve “getting out for a walk, taking the stairs, carrying our shopping bags”, and other such low-intensity forms of exercise.
Another piece of advice Rebecca has for us is to change up our working positions. If you usually work sitting down, try alternating that with periods of standing. But no matter where you are working, it’s important to make sure “that your screen is directly in front of you, at eye level, and that you’re using a full sized keyboard”.
For fixes that go beyond the normal working day, you could try Pilates classes. Monica recommends these to most of her patients, because “they are great for retraining your postural muscles”. There are loads of classes going on online at the moment, which are easy to fit into a working day.
However, if you are concerned about your posture and the back pain you are experiencing, Monica recommends that you “see a professional like an osteopath, who can help rebalance any tensions in your body with hands-on treatment”, and give you personalised exercises for your particular problem.
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