Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Chasing posture as a cause of back pain is a dead end

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

This silly, contrived photo of poor posture was one of the first stock images I ever bought.

I often share things on Facebook and Twitter that never make it to the blog, but sometimes something is such a hit on social media that I bring it here. Case in point…

I have been embroiled in writing about yoga for low back pain for a solid week, and while I was busy with that, this quick share about posture was making waves on my Facebook page:

I hope you’re not still chasing posture as a cause of back pain… because it’s a dead end.

“People adopt a range of different spine postures, and no single posture protects a person from back pain. People with both slumped and upright postures can experience back pain.”

This is a clear summary of good quality research by Peter O'Sullivan, Leon Straker, and Nic Saraceni. Expertise doesn’t get much more expert.

LINK: Having ‘good’ posture doesn’t prevent back pain, and ‘bad’ posture doesn’t cause it


“Posturology” is the pseudoscience of how poor posture drives pain, and how correcting posture can change it. Criticizing the alleged clinical significance of posture is as good a way to rile people up as talking about the scientific bankruptcy of stretching or Epsom salts (the most perennially provocative topics on Many commenters scoffed, most of them citing personal/clinical experience as if it outranks a buttload of solid evidence. For example:

Seems overgeneralized. Plenty of people have found relief through correcting posture. Just because there are outliers doesn’t mean it does not somrt8mes [sic] work.

Well, of course people “found relief” though “correcting” posture — because they’ve been told for their entire lives in a thousand different ways that it’s possible and that it matters! We must always keep in mind that people have always believed that they were helped by [insert literally any crazy snake oil you’ve ever heard of, including the self-destructive]. I have collected several bizarre examples of popular but dangerous snake oils just for making this point (and it comes up often).

I am not completely anti-anecdote, but it’s really not persuasive to use personal experience to contradict the conclusions of high quality research and analysis. And yet that seems to be as good as the case for posturology ever gets.