If you could only sit stoically with good posture for the entire work day, you'd have no neck, shoulder or low back pain, right? Not quite.
The idea of achieving a perfect, static posture is outdated, Nancy Durban, lead physical therapist for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, tells TODAY.com.
"There's kind of an old saying that, 'Your best posture is your next posture,'" Durban says. "A snapshot of a posture is just that because posture is dynamic, it's moving."
These days, rather than enforcing a strict one-size-fits-all ideal posture, Durban encourages her patients to find a comfortable position for their individual bodies. But she also emphasizes the need to keep moving, take frequent breaks and practice other healthy behaviors.
In her work, Durban frequently runs into long-held misconceptions about what it means to have "good posture." Here's what she wants you to know.
Myth: There is one perfect posture we should all be aiming for.
"Everyone is unique and has their own individual posture," Durban says.
There are still some general guidelines for finding a comfortable and supportive posture, like keeping your screen at eye level, not leaning forward and keeping your feet flat on the ground while sitting.
But you may find that you need to adjust things a bit — such as elevating your hips a tad more — to work with the unique curves and quirks of your body, she explains. And that's totally fine!
The idea of "physical therapists trying to mold everybody into the perfect posture is kind of out of date," Durban says. "It's an old-fashioned way of looking at (posture)."
Myth: Bad posture always leads to pain.
"There's very low evidence that correlates pain and poor posture," Durban says. "So poor posture doesn't really equate to pain."
Often, the relationship works the other way around: People who are in pain have a harder time maintaining good posture, she explains.
The muscles involved in maintaining posture are "marathon muscles," Durban says. "They need to be strong, but they also have to have the endurance to work over a long period of time."
Eventually, those muscles fatigue, she says. And if you try to push through without them, chronic bad posture can cause muscle tightness and weakness as your body works to accommodate sitting in that unsupported position for an extended period of time, she says.
That's why it's so important to give those muscles breaks and to change positions during the day rather than trying to force yourself to sit in one "perfect" position for hours at a time. And, in the long run, there are ways to improve the strength and endurance of the muscles that support your posture, TODAY.com explained previously.
If you do feel pain even after trying out different positions and taking breaks, Durban recommends seeing a physical therapist for an evaluation.
Myth: You just need to find the right posture and stay there.
Some positions are likely to be more comfortable than others. But staying in any position for an extended period of time is likely to become uncomfortable at a certain point, Durban says.
That means that if someone has pain associated with sitting in a position, it may not be the position itself but rather the fact that they're spending so much time in a single posture.
For instance, many of Durban's young patients and their parents are particularly concerned about slouching. "But sitting in a slumped position doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to have pain," she says.
"What that tells me, though, is that if they're in a position for a prolonged amount of time, they are not moving. And moving is what our body is designed to do," she says.
The goal of good posture is not to find the position that you can stay in for hours at a time, she explains. It's to find comfortable positions — and to take regular movement breaks in between them.
The best evidence we have suggests we should take a break every 30 to 60 minutes to stand up and stretch, Durban says. You can also use that time to take a lap around the office and get some water, she adds.
Myth: Moving at your desk means you don't need to take breaks.
But she's concerned that people are still at their desks using these devices for an hour or more at a time without breaks because that could lead to an overuse injury.
"Moving some would be good, but there's that fine line between doing enough moving and not doing too much," Durban says.
Myth: You only need to think about posture during the workday.
The way you sit and stand at work is only one piece of the puzzle that is keeping your body feeling good and strong. Staying hydrated, getting good sleep and working on stress-reducing techniques — including taking breaks — all play a role, Durban says.
People may think that when their inbox starts to fill up, "they just have to work longer," Durban says. "But actually taking deep breaths, taking a little break and doing a quick mindfulness (exercise) helps you to focus and be more efficient."
Not only does that help you feel better and keep up your good posture, but it also ensures "your mindset is better for tackling that inbox," she adds.