A pain in the neck and poor posture. Fact or myth?

My neck pain is due to my poor posture? Maybe, but some researchers now place more importance upon factors such as:

poor sleep, reduced physical activity and increased stress

The Root Cause Of Bad Posture - Dilbert by Scott Adams

******With thanks to Scott Adams and The Dilbert Cartoons.

A 2016 study of 1100 Australian adolescents found no clear relationship between the classic “text neck/head” posture and neck pain/headaches A smaller study in Brazil in 2018 came to the same conclusion. This challenged widely held beliefs about the role of posture in adolescent neck pain. Whilst the findings may not relate directly to adults, the link between lifesyle factors, psychological factors and neck pain, can be related to adults. A link between slumped thorax/forward head posture had “higher odds of depressive symptoms” – consistent with a previous study in 2011 that linked slumped posture to higher levels of anxiety and depression in 14 year olds. Puberty is a tough time for many.

In our yoga practice, we know that the balance of the head is controlled by the nervous system to maintain the most economic postion for the individual. We try to feel this by slowly nodding the head, for example. Stanley Keleman wrote many years ago about the relationship between posture, personality and mood – see blog Your Body Speaks its Mind – Stanley Keleman. See also, more recent investigations in the blog Emotions and Pain

I have have recently come across Posturology – a multi disciplinary approach used in complementary medicine to study the relation between posture and many pathologies, above all chronic pain. A 19th century physician,Dr Charles Bell, asked how man was able to maintain an upright positon against the force of the wind:

Clearly he possesses an ability to adjust and correct any variation from the vertical.

The first school of posturology was established in Berlin in 1890. In 1955, Dr Baron, of the Posturography Laboratory of the St Anne Hospital (Paris), published a thesis on the importance of the eye muscles in postural attitude. The importance of the the internal ear, proprioception and the foot (podal input) plays an important role in the system. In line with this has been the proliferation of equipment and software – stability platforms, stability software etc. Thus an industry has built up around helping us to feel the difference or connection between how we perceive ourselves and how we think that we are perceived by others.

I am part of that industry, I suppose. However, in our yoga classes we put aside the time and space to explore these feelings as we simply attempt to find comfort in ourselves – mostly without props, equipment and being tweaked.

You can find many examples of people with apparently poor posture who do not complain of neck pain, indeed adults with severe scoliosis who only mention mild back irritation. We are all different. The key word may be vulnerability to pain/poor posture rather than poor posture itself and vulnerability seems to increase with age. Bodies seem to heal if we move them, with regularity and with care. Bodies that “forget to move” seem to take longer to heal.

I was recently struck by a poster produced by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists on the myths surrounding back pain. View the full poster – back pain myth busters

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Playing with movement, as we do on all fours when we flex/extend the spine; repeating when we stand, helps us to identify postural habits. Moving regularly in yoga classes as well as in “real life” – not holding poses with tension in yoga classes and avoiding fixed position in daily life (which I do when typing this blog!!!). This triggers self-awareness and may help us to identify why sitting in a certain way at work result in headaches; why sitting with the legs crossed for long periods may adversely affect the back etc etc

Postural stress is not a myth but it is not alleviated simply by puting people into a “correct shape”, taping shoulders back etc Such things are reminders and as such are useful but ongoing pain cannot linked simply to poor posture. It is more complex. I mentioned the apparent myth connecting poor posture with neck pain to an osteopath recently – and said “I thought everyone knew that” !!!

Reader ….

I wasn’t sure!!!

2 thoughts on “A pain in the neck and poor posture. Fact or myth?”

  1. Thanks Liz – as ever thought provoking, the answers are never easy and often multifactorial and cumulative, I think personally lack of awareness of what’s going on in the neck and shoulders is important – so many times I ‘catch’ myself with my shoulders up round my ears, and such a releif when I release them!!! thanks again Fiona

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  2. Thank you Fiona. We seem to “lose our feet” and thus our grounding when the shoulders take the strain. It is something that so many of us can relate to and when we eventually notice and “let go” we wonder why on earth we were holding ourselves up with our shoulders and the muscles around our neck! !

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