Posture Aids: Misleading or Helpful?

woman with her neck down

writer icon Kajsa Ingemansson     ISB   |   Business     🕐 11. Apr. 2019

A widespread health problem in the modern world is back pain. The American Posture Institute goes as far as calling it a "posture epidemic".

Back pain affects more than 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, and Sweden is estimated to have a similar number. As a result, the posture correction industry is booming.

‘Posture-fixers’ and ‘back buddies' are support devices and wearable tech designed to correct and monitor posture, and in some cases breathing. It is worth asking if workplaces should invest in these posture aids. Are they useful, or do they delay actual sustainable help and support?

Human nature and novelty factor
Rina Raphael, technology, health and wellness writer at Fast Company tested five posture aids to see if they work, and how realistic it is that people incorporate them into their lives.

Raphael stopped using every single one as they “were mostly burdensome to set up, irritating after several hours, and not terribly exciting after day one.” If expectations for a quick solution are not met, or it is too much work, interest often diminishes, she found.

Even historically, posture aids were not considered permanent solutions. Furthermore, they might create dependency that “weaken the muscles and may even cause further injury due to the aid supporting the bulk of the weight instead of the muscles, causing atrophy,” according to some

Temporary awareness
Posture aids are training tools that gently remind or encourage correct alignment through alerts. However, ‘The Posture Doc’, Dr Guy Bahar, argues that they only deliver a temporary awareness, and “having a reminder cue is not enough”.

While aids may alert posture change, like a problem reminder, without actionable information you see no sustainable change. Rather, it works on the assumption that one can correctly adjust on cue.

The problem with straight
Instructions to ‘sit up straight’ encourages the idea that there is a correct straight place to be, which is hard to do as our spine is curved. Attempting to be in one place can be confusing and cooperates poorly with how we are built for movement, also adding unnecessary muscular activity.

Putting on a brace that pulls arms back, might also move balance to the back of a person. Thus creating unhelpful patterns of holding tension between shoulder blades, as seen in some marketing videos.

Posture is a result of movement. Trying to find the correct one has people pulling and pushing parts around, without paying attention to how all parts are connected. Knowledge of how it all moves as a whole is ultimately what solves posture issues in a sustainable way.

Built in support
Rediscovering optimally coordinated movement results in good posture, and gives people the realisation that there is a built-in system for posture correction. Conscious movement and choice empowers the individual to create real sustainable change.

John H.M. Austin, MD at Columbia University Medical Center, feels that "habitual patterns of scrunched and tense use of the body are so ingrained in our lives that the concept may seem extraordinary that unlearning these patterns can actually relieve pain and discomfort.”

API emphasises that “loss of body consciousness is certainly a hidden downside of the convenience and power of the electronic age” in this new world of ‘text necks’ and slouched computer backs. However, it is not only technology that creates patterns and responses, there are many reasons for postural changes.

To keep choosing change requires focus and reminders, and aids or a post-it note on your computer might be helpful. Although, it will not do the changing. Each person has to work out a specific and tailored plan to put into action for that to be the case.

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