Pain part 2 – Does bad posture cause pain?
The other day we saw that pain is very complex and that in most cases it´s produced in the brain. So, if it´s really produced in the brain, does posture or movement really matter? We have all gone to the physical therapist or doctor and have heard that ¨your back pain comes because you have too much of a curve in your back¨, or ¨your back pain or shoulder pain comes because of your forward head posture¨ or ¨your knee pain comes because you have too much of a pronation on your foot¨. Hell, I´ve done it, I´ve been saying that to my patients for years because that is what was taught to me.
Up to last year I had a client, XG, who always came to me because he had back pain. I would always tell him that his back pain was coming because of his posture. He had a forward head (still does) and a big lordosis (inward curve) in the lower back .I tried to correct his posture, I gave him exercises to do at home, I stretched him, I did everything you could imagine but his posture hasn´t really changed but guess what, his pain has, it´s gone!!
So what I´m basically trying to say is that there is no consensus on supporting a biomechanical (and posture) model of pain (1-10). Because:
• Postural and structural asymmetries cannot predict back pain and are unlikely to be its cause (1).
• Local and global changes in spinal biomechanics are not demonstrably the cause of back pain (1).
• A postural structural biomechanical model is not suitable for understanding the causes of back pain (1).
This is so because postural structural asymmetries and imperfections are normal!! The body has surplus capacity to tolerate such variation without loss of normal function. That is why there is little scientific evidence to show that posture will cause pain (2-5). If posture was a factor of pain how come you see thousands of people around with bad posture with no pain and thousands more with ideal posture in a lot of pain? That just shows that there is much more to pain than just posture.
This is not meant to deny that there is a correlation between pain and certain postures, but that this association is neither sufficient nor conclusive to justify our efforts to dictate people’s posture and movement. But what we do know for sure is that there is no ‘ideal’ posture, and any posture if maintained for too long will result in dysfunction, and maybe pain. The key is movement.
To end this article and the topic of posture and pain, and to confuse people even more, I will say that there actually is potential harm in “addressing” the unsubstantiated claims of bad posture. Things just as: focus on “bad” movement or “bad” positioning have the potential to sensitize the individual into believing that a benign (wrong) positioning is in fact something that represents a threat. And as we saw yesterday in the video, pain is the response to threat, either real or perceived, and how we view our environment and ourselves within that environment can positively or negatively affect that threat response. So by addressing things that don’t have evidence to support them (bad posture), we are actually increasing the chance that an individual might have the very real experience of pain. We are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is real harm – and it is evidenced (2-5).
I will finish by quoting some of Lorimer’s famous quotes and with a link to a video that demonstrates the tricks the mind can play on us.
Favorite Lorimer Quotes
- “Pain is very complex.”
- “We can’t treat every pain patient with a simple solution.”
- “The best way to get rid of chronic pain is to chop the person’s head off.”
- “As soon as you interact with the patient, you are in their brain.”
- “Always do more today than you did yesterday.”
P.S In my last post I said that you can have an injury without having pain. Some of you didn´t believe me, which is normal, so references 7-12 demonstrate just that.
Also, those that have been following me may be asking themselves why I still haven´t talked about how to deal with pain. The simple answer is that I first wanted you guys to really understand what pain is and change the way you think about it. With these 2 posts maybe you haven´t really understood it yet, but I probably made you look at pain from a different perspective. Now that we have this different perspective, in my next post I will finally talk about how to ¨deal¨ with it. Hope you liked the article, until next time.
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2. Loeser JD, Melzack R. Pain: an overview. Lancet. 1999 May
3.Moseley, G. Lorimer. Reconceptualising pain according to modern pain
science. Physical Therapy Reviews 2007; 12: 169–178.
4.G Lorimer Moseley. Teaching people about pain: why do we keep
beating around the bush? Pain Manage. (2012) 2(1), 1–3.
5.Melzack R., Katz J. (2013), Pain. WIREs Cogn Sci, 4: 1–15.
6. Moseley GL. Pain, brain imaging and physiotherapy–opportunity is
knocking. Man Ther. 2008 Dec;13(6):475-7.
7.Jensen MC et al. Magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine in people
without back pain. N Engl J Med.1994 Jul 14;331(2):69-73.
8. Sher JS et al. Abnormal findings on magnetic resonance images of
asymptomatic shoulders. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1995 Jan;77(1):10-5.
9.Melzack R, Wall PD, Ty TC. Acute pain in an emergency clinic: latency of onset
and descriptor patterns related to different injuries. Pain. 1982
10. Boden SD, Davis DO, Dina TS, Patronas NJ, Wiesel SW. Abnormal magneticresonance
scans of the lumbar spine in asymptomatic subjects. A prospective
investigation. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1990 Mar;72(3):403-8.
11. Kleinstück F, Dvorak J, Mannion AF. Are “structural abnormalities” on
magnetic resonance imaging a contraindication to the successful conservative
treatment of chronic nonspecific low back pain? Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006
12. Bhattacharyya T, Gale D, Dewire P, Totterman S, Gale ME, McLaughlin S,
Einhorn TA, Felson DT. The clinical importance of meniscal tears
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- Pain part 1 (sports-diet-pain.com)
- The Importance Of Being Upright (epicahealth.com)