“I think it’s my posture…”

I hear this a lot in the treatment room.

From professional footballers, to busy Mums, to the over 80’s.

As a physio you refer to the scientific research to see if there is any evidence on posture with things like back pain.

The question being:

Does bad posture = bad back?

The truth is, that there are numerous studies which repeatedly disprove any relationship with bad posture equalling bad back.*

Don’t start slouching just yet though because what is missing in these studies is any kind of long term follow up.

Over the course of 20 or 30 years it is likely that areas of the body will start to suffer as a result of the “city slumper” type posture which I am seeing more and more of.

So, the next question is – can you change your posture?

Watching the catwalk models at London Fashion Week this week was fascinating.

You get to see some of the best examples of great posture.

As a physio you naturally gauge peoples posture (like a sixth sense).

Runway models glide down the run way as if walking on air with their near perfect head to toe posture.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with a male catwalk model – Elliot Conway who has spent his fair share of time on the runway.

It was fascinating to learn how they get taught to walk in such a way.

“Chin down, hands by the waist, and tennis ball between the shoulder blades was often referred to when getting taught.”

External verbal cues like this are what master teachers use with their students.

In Daniel Coyle’s book “The Talent Code” he discovered that every master coach he studied used these kinds of external cues all the way from tennis coaches to voice coaches.

You will hear “long through the spine” from any good pilates teacher, or “tuck your shoulder blades in to your back pocket”.

Do catwalk models do much extra training to be able to walk in such a way?

“I have an old back injury from a motorcycle accident which over the years has left me to compensate on primarily my left side. Over the years it has become more noticeable to the point I am now adding extra sets in my strength training on my weak side to build more mass to even out my shoulders.”

Even with an old injury Elliot was able to walk in a very symmetrical way and even though not on the runway still maintained a very an elegant gait (walk).

The main take away from meeting Elliot, from reading The Talent Code and from my career in looking at how people move is that – you can change your posture.

It is like learning an instrument, learning a language or learning how to juggle.

Little by little, if you practice something regularly your body will begin to adapt and learn.

New neural pathways are laid out and your muscles begin to learn a new normal.

The takeaway message:

= bad posture doesn’t equal bad back

= external verbal cues like “walk tall” is how you practice walking and moving with better posture

= you can improve your posture by repeatedly practicing moving better

Having a coach or specialist to help you with this is important especialliy if you have pain.

Test drive some of these verbal cues this week and see how it feels walking like a catwalk model!

*In case you were wondering, the problem isn’t with your posture, it’s with how long you spend in one position, the most obvious example of this is sitting.

Periods longer than 30 minutes in a sitting position causes the connective tissue in the body (ligaments) to start to change on a cellular level.

Something called “creep” starts to occur where the tissue begins to stretch too much which can lead to pain and over load through areas of the body like the back and neck.

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