As many of us continue to work from home, it's easy to be hard on ourselves for slouching, or fixate on finding the "perfect posture" to sit or stand in all day.
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But here's the thing: There's no such thing as perfect posture. That's according to physical therapist Dr. Craig Lindell, of the [P]Rehab Guys, a Los Angeles–based group dedicated to educating people on things like preventative physical rehab and the truth behind "bad" posture. I reached out to Dr. Craig to learn more about both — and get some tips and practical stretches to relieve my own lower back pain while working from home. (It sucks getting older.)
"Everything that has been ingrained into you about the word posture may not be true," Dr. Craig told BuzzFeed. "As humans, we're not meant to be in the same position all day. We're meant to move. So I tell my patients that your 'best' posture is your next posture."
I still wanted to know though: Is there such a thing as a bad posture or a posture that even leaves us more prone to pain? The short answer, according to Dr. Craig: Unless you have a preexisting injury, no.
"More people are spending time at home and working remotely," he explained. "You could spend one day hunched forward, looking down, and may feel fine. But if you're dealing with more stress, had a recent injury, or recently tweaked something because you were carrying something too heavy, then the next day, those positions may not feel good. There's nothing inherently wrong with that position. It's just a matter of now, your equilibrium is thrown off."
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Instead of trying to find a "better" posture and staying in it for eight hours straight, Dr. Craig and his team actually prefer that a person moves from one position to another position — even if you think those positions are "bad" — because it's more important to avoid being sedentary.
Our bodies prefer to constantly be in motion and that's why Dr. Craig's team recommends a standing desk. Not because sitting is better than standing, but rather because we're more likely to shift positions when we're standing.
Even after hearing this, my skepticism persisted. If I'm switching up positions at my standing desk like my name is Ariana Grande, then why do I still feel pain being activated? "Pain is your nervous system talking to your body," Dr. Craig told me. "It's a part of life. So if you're experiencing pain, that means you're alive."
I actually got choked up when he told me that. Because if I'm being honest, I previously felt so resigned to my pain. I just relented that I was always going be cursed with it because of my constant slouching and hunching at the computer. It was refreshing to hear that my pain is not something I should feel bad about.
"It may not be all that realistic to expect no pain for the rest of your life," Dr. Craig said. "And how we feel about our posture changes with how we look at it when we are in pain versus when we aren’t. That’s why pain isn’t indicative of good or bad posture. Because posture is always dynamic. Even in a more 'perfect' posture, your body's going to want to move."
However, if there is a certain position that tends to activate your pain, Dr. Craig said you should focus on counteracting it.
Dr. Craig then demonstrated two moves — or "movement snacks" — anyone could do right at their desk. The first one: a sunrise salute. Do this one either seated or standing up.
The second move was a hip flexor stretch, shown below. For me, this one immediately provided relief in balancing out the slouch of my lower back that I usually settle into when sitting down.
I also found a third stretch I really liked that I could do in my chair: a seated cat camel. (For more quick stretches and exercises, check out their extensive YouTube library.)
To recap, Dr. Craig said, "While you're working, stand for as long as you can. And when your body starts saying, 'Hey, something doesn't feel comfortable,' sit down for as long as you can."
And if pain is your body's signal that it's experiencing an overload of stress in a particular area, it's no surprise that people are experiencing a lot more discomfort during this pandemic. "I once heard from a neurosurgeon, 'During very stressful times, stress can manifest itself physically.' And that's really relevant right now with COVID."
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"During the past few years, we're working from home, schools are shutting down, or there's issues with your job, whatever it may be," he said. "And maybe now, you're experiencing more headaches, neck pain, or tension than ever. During the most stressful times of my life, all of my orthopedic issues started popping up and my lower back pain was getting worse."