The Myth Behind Shoulder Pain and Posture

Does posture cause pain?

We’ve all heard it time and time again: pull your shoulders back to get in a good posture to prevent pain. This has become so ingrained in our culture that there are ads all over social media for a device that tells you when you’re sitting or standing with “bad posture.”
These beliefs about posture may not hold a lot of truth when it comes to preventing pain and injury. In comparison studies of postures of people who have shoulder pain and those who are pain free, there has been no indication that those with pain have different postures than those without. In short: shoulder pain and posture likely aren’t related most of the time.

Why do I have “bad posture?”

Let’s back track a little bit and talk about why people sit with “bad posture.” There is one very highly scientific reason: it’s easier. We can rely on the back of the seat to maintain the position.

The problem isn’t the posture. The problem may be the fact that people are not moving out of the sitting position for the entire day. Just sitting up right with “good posture” will not provide enough of a load to alter the strength of the muscles. The shoulder pain is  likely not cause by posture, or the sitting in general. It’s what’s not happening–strength training.

But…I strength train regularly! Why do I have shoulder pain?

There are, of course, plenty of people who incorporate strength training into their day and still experience pain. That does not mean it’s related to posture. This is where we have an opportunity to focus on other aspects of their life. Perhaps they’ve ramped up the volume too quickly, they’re not following a general training plan, they’re over training, stressed, lacking sleep, not getting enough macro or micronutrients to allow for recovery, etc.

Does posture play any kind of role?

That being said, there are times that posture matters. If it’s impacting symptoms, then it can be addressed. If someone has pain every time they sit, then we might want to look into sitting posture. We will first start by moving into positions of comfort, then gradually sensitizing to positions that previously aggravated symptoms to allow the individual to have a variety of sitting postures available.

Another aspect to address posture is sport specific. If an athlete is unable to obtain a posture required for their sport, then we can address the posture. For example a ballerina, who might be asked to have an upright posture in order to improve their performance and be selected for a professional ballet company. This would be an important part of our plan of care.

So, instead of focusing on what you are doing while you sit, consider what you’re not doing because you’re sitting.


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