Good posture can help your back — is this right?

I’m a pilates teacher, a back care instructor, a teacher of a lot of different types of exercise and always there is a focus on posture and that if you have good posture, all your movement and life will be amazing. All your aches and pains will vanish and you will be a balanced person once again.

Is good posture a means to good movement, efficient movement, reducing those niggly lower back pains?

When we take our fitness qualifications, good posture is certainly a strong theme throughout our education but should this be our main concern say when dealing with someone with lower back pain? And does a static posture assessment really help us work out a fitness programme to help prevent the return of lower back pain?

So I’m playing devil’s advocate today as I am always questioning what I’ve been taught and wanting to learn, understand more about how to move more efficiently. Although I am a pilates teacher, I ultimately want to improve my client’s movement experience which may well not involve pilates moves, particularly if a client has approached me with lower back issues.

Now firstly to be clear, I don’t deal with clients who are in pain, that is not my remit. I work with women 50+ some of which have had lower back issues, hip problems, knee issues, and have come to me as a result of being referred by doctors, physios or osteopaths. They are now pain free but been recommended to do pilates to ‘strengthen their backs’. I also deal with injury free clients who are wishing to age actively again predominantly women.

I have myself experienced lower back pain where I have been nearly bed ridden, certainly immobile for a day or so because everything jammed up. Pain killers were taken to help me move and then determination to get mobile again through walking. I chose not to visit a doctor at the time because I felt I could manage things myself and this is because I really believe that where there is a will there is a way and obviously tapping into my fitness education I began a journey towards trying to understand my body more so that I could help myself move more efficiently. The fact that my lower back had jammed up was a huge sign post telling me that my body was definitely not working as well as it could.

Years on now I rarely get lower back pain unless I’ve been foolish and been too repetitive with my movement, moved poorly and had too much load. I’ve recognised as well that through my years of teaching exercise, albeit to help people get fitter, I probably haven’t actually helped myself as much because of doing so much repetition of certain movements, particularly in the early days when you have a less extensive repertoire of exercises and are not as informed or as aware of movement as you should be when you are let out to teach in the world (but that’s a much bigger debate).

So let’s get back to the question. Does good posture help your back if you are suffering from no specific low back pain (NSLBP)?

Okay firstly if you have had NSLBP and you are out of pain now but referred to do exercise this is the tricky bit, should I do a static posture assessment? In all honesty, I don’t feel that this is a valuable indicator of how you are moving. What would I do then?

My continued education has led me down the pathway of biomechanics (Biomechanics Education) and the Franklin Method™ because I personally wanted to experience more fluid movement in my body and wanted to be able to try to pass this on to others. I had reached a point in time where although I love pilates, I felt I needed more.

I am therefore training to be a Biomechanics Coach because I wanted to have an evaluation system to help me assess movement dysfunction using a tried and tested system so that there is evidence based results to support what kind of exercise programme you would recommend your clients.

What is biomechanics? From Google, ‘the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms.’ More simplistically understanding how and why we move.

I felt biomechanics would enhance my movement assessment skills and that the Franklin Method™ would help clients focus on themselves and how they are feeling and moving. You can see how well Franklin and the world of biomechanics interact.

What is the Franklin Method™ then?

‘The Franklin Method™ approach can be applied to any movement to improve its function. Our goal is to create happy minds & healthy bodies through anatomical embodiment and dynamic neurocognitive imagery (DNI™)’.

Again simplistically speaking reconnecting mind to body and vice versa.

The greatest thing about the Franklin Method™ is that it gives us the awareness that ‘we have the power to change’ which means that if we are struggling with the movement patterns we have right now, we have the ability to change them, if we want to, to help improve our movement.

So again how does this relate to good posture and lower back pain?

Well firstly just what is good posture? Our ideal spinal alignment is a double S shape so we have differing curves at the cervical, thoracic and lumber spine not forgetting the sacrum and coccyx who tail off so to speak at the end. If you had this double S alignment then would that mean you have good posture? Would that mean that you will never experience lower back pain? In all honesty, probably not. Our imbalances tend to come from muscular issues where we have held ourselves for long periods of time in one posture. For example, sitting a long time, standing a long time, you will have found your comfortable posture so that you can stay there a while. If this happens again and again then your muscles start to hold onto that information because this is what your body recognises as your ‘norm’.

‘In every moment, the ideal combination of limbs, joints, gravity, moving parts, connective tissue, and muscle must be found and directed by your brain and nervous system.’ The Franklin Method™

Posture really is a dynamic state which makes me come away more and more from seeking good posture, particularly before you move as this just isn’t your real movement pattern. Good posture is for me a place where your body moves efficiently, effectively and without tension. Moving becomes effortless.

Combine this way of thinking with a system that can assess your client’s physical limitations, then I think there is huge scope to effect positive change which comes from your client themselves. We are not able to give you good posture with exercise prescription alone, we can however as physical fitness educators, help you create positive changes in your own body (which is far less expensive in the long run!)

I therefore am not dismissing good posture as irrelevant to how your lower back feels, but I am questioning how we really can get you to move more easily and ideally with no pain if you are constantly looking toward achieving ‘good posture’ in every move. This distracts you from the really important matter of actually being able to move freely so for me I don’t want to see you collapse over your legs if you take a forward lunge, but I also don’t want you to be bolt upright and rigid. I do however want to see that you can move without always having your lower back flexed so that you understand the distinction between using your back and using your hips which if that classifies as my version of ‘good posture’ to start with then that’s where I am right now.

Posture is very subjective and is affected by so many other factors such as stress. How you hold yourself one day will vary to the next or from one minute to the next so trying to achieve the universal norm of being tall could well add to any NSLBP or create it.

My take on good posture and lower back pain is less emphasis on achieving good posture. Let’s seek out pain free movement. This will mean changing what you are doing right now if you are experiencing back problems and creating new movement patterns and changing your mindset too. If this is something you need help with then feel free to get in touch. There is no one size fits all answer. Movement is a continued work in progress but at least it is one that can we can make a positive experience rather than negative very easily.

Remember you have the power to change!

Sources of information: Biomechanics Education, Franklin Method™