The Dirty Truth Behind Posture, Pain & Performance

By Mat Boule

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Should You Really Care About Posture?

One can define posture as the position in which the body operates under gravity. With that definition in mind, many possibilities come to mind. It could be that we are referring to standing, seated or lying posture, for example.

Why is standing posture more intriguing? Your clients are looking to perform while on two feet… for the very most part. Take a second and think of the postural context in which your athletes want to perform…

Our goal is to make my people better on two feet. For this reason alone, this article will speak on standing posture.

Are You Standing Quietly?

Most don’t give a shit about posture because they figure that assessment of posture is assessment of static posture. I’ve heard time and time again that there is no transfer between what is found in a typical postural assessment and movement abilities.

We can also refer to static posture as standing quiet. But the question is this: how quiet and how static can posture actually be?

The answer is simple: static posture does not actually exist! Even when standing quiet, there is movement. It may not be more than a few degrees of oscillation… but it isn’t static.

So if you are a movement specialist, assessing posture in its most static position can give you an insight on how things go down when there is… more movement!

But Still, Does Posture Really Matter For Pain & Performance?

I might have gotten you interested in looking at posture at this point… but please allow me to completely throw you off!

You see, most actually find assessing posture pretty damn boring and I can appreciate why many therapists and strength coaches prefer muscle testing and the Functional Movement Screen to gather information about their clients, for example.

That being said, as soon as the client moves, when one attempts to figure out why movement does not occur as planned, we propose hypothesis. We rely on other tests such as muscle testing and length testing. We put out more hypotheses…

Testing posture in the most static of settings gives you one pretty cool advantage: objectivity.

A tilted shoulder is a tilted shoulder. It’s visual. It’s easy to detect. It’s hard to argue over these types of findings.

What I find in the vast majority of cases is this: Movement and/or pain dysfunction is often on the side where there is a tilt (shoulders and/or pelvis).

Why can that be, you ask?

A specific pathway entitled the reticulo-spinal pathway is responsible for the muscular tone on a given side of the body. When that pathway is not projecting as planned, there is increased muscle tension in the anterior muscles above T6 and the posterior muscles below T6. This leads to a tilt of the shoulder and pelvis, on the same side.

Now, one of the really awesome features of Posturology is that these tilts are usually fully correctable in a few minutes, permanently.

But still, I have to say… I don’t give a shit about posture, and neither should you!

Posture or Proprioception?

If I had a dollar for every time I read an article on how to improve proprioception where I did not agree, I would be a millionaire.

If one could not care less about posture, I can’t say the same about proprioception.

If you break the word proprioception down, you get: perception of self.

Prioprioception is intimately linked to one of the basic types of intelligences: kinesthetic intelligence.

One could argue (that would be me, in this instance) that kinesthetic intelligence is at the core of all the other forms of intelligence since it is with your physical body that you can experience any reality.

So let’s say we are big fans of proprioception… where do you find it in the body?

Proprioception can also be entitled muscle sense. In order to know where you are in space without looking, your muscles are made up of receptors. These receptors are the muscle spindles.

Muscle spindles are responsible for recording the length of a muscle. When a muscle is lengthened and when a muscle is shortened, it is sending less information to the central nervous system. In that context, we are less proprioceptive. What a bummer that is!

If it’s hard to feel our body, how are we supposed to perform when we have to use it… and move?

So it’s about sensitivity… of the muscle spindle, that is! The more sensitive the muscle spindle, the more you know where you are in space and the more you can recruit the muscular system for performance.

It just so happens to be that a proprioceptive deficit is a postural imbalance. The two simply cannot be separated.

Should We Be Focusing on the Posture of Movement?

Now that we know that posture and movement cannot be separated, let’s look at it this way: movement is a succession of different postures. Essentially, if you break down movement, what you actually get is a series of postures that are in evolution as the goal is a specific output.

The old debate about whether or not improving posture improves movement should be classified as case closed.

When one gathers that posture is movement and that the postural system prepares, guides and corrects movement, one cannot talk in terms of: is this postural or is this dynamic?

So we spoke about proprioception. What is proprioception good for if one cannot manage its body efficiently in space? This is where exteroception comes into play!

Exteroception refers to how we interact with our environment. There are two organs that position the body in space and offer a lever to counteract the effect of gravity.

  • The Feet
  • The Eyes

The feet represent the lever the body uses to resist the pull of gravity. Its contact points need to be symmetrical if one is to access ascending muscle chains effectively.

If the feet create stability vertically, it is eye tracking that does so horizontally. This might be news to most readers, but to organize a postural response, we calibrate ourselves via the righting reflex.

The righting reflex corrects the orientation of the body when it is taken out of its normal upright position.

The vestibular system detects the body and or the head is taken out of its normal upright position and, via projections to ocular, neck and spinal muscles, the head and the body align as best as they can.

Truth is, if the body present with other causes of imbalances, it may be hard to organize an optimal response. The resultant is often, for example, a resting head tilt.

When lifting, especially heavy loads, you’ll often see the head tilt and possibly rotate to where it is most comfortable. That’s the adaptation that is costly to the lifter.

This is where posture is movement and movement is posture.

Putting an End to the Postural Debate

In conclusion, it’s time for a paradigm shift:

  • Static versus dynamic is a false debate.
  • Posture and proprioception is the same thing.

We are all seeking more performance and less pain! Let’s look at the whole picture and get it done!

About The Author

Mat Boulé, D.O. is an osteopath and posturologist specializing in optimizing the neurological aspect of movement for injury prevention, healing and performance. Mat has presented his methods on Posturology at the renown TEDx Talk in Quebec, along with the 2016 SWIS Symposium in Toronto, Canada.

Watch Mat’s TEDx Talk: TEDxLaval Talk

For more about Mat visit: Clinique VI

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One Comment

  1. zach wolff January 8, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    thanks for a very interesting article. i would add another important organ that positions the body in space: the vestibular system.

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