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“Stand Up Straight, Shoulders Back!”… Why your mother was wrong…

Let me start by saying that moms are the backbone of our society. Nobody does more for and has a greater impact on all of the children of the world than the moms out there. They deserve all the recognition that they get, and honestly they really deserve more. Now that I have said that, I am going to drop a little bomb. Your mom was wrong when she told you how to fix your posture. Please forgive me, I promise my intentions are for the good.

I bet the words “stand up straight, shoulders back” ring a bell to many of you reading this right now. And unless you served in the military, I bet you heard those words from your mother. Now, I am going to redeem myself and explain that though your mother was incorrect, it probably wasn’t her fault for steering you in the wrong direction. A mother would never intentionally do such a thing. You see these words have been uttered for generation upon generation, so likely this advice was something that was passed down to her. But why?

The posture we create by standing up straight with our shoulders back places us in a perceived position of power and dominance. By positioning ourselves like this, people are more likely to view you and what you have to say as important. Additionally, having a chest up and shoulders back posture is also pleasing to the eye and attention grabbing. Our eyes tend to draw themselves to height. Have you ever wondered why a speaker will stand at a podium, positioning themselves higher than the audience? Now you know why. They are asking us to draw our attention to them and alerting us that they are about to say something important.

This all sounds pretty good, so I am sure most of you are wondering where the downside is in all this? Maybe some of you are even rejoicing, thinking “mom was right after all!” But sadly, in our attempts to appear powerful and grab the attention of our audience, we position ourselves to be in chronic pain. You see, when we stand up straight with our chest up and shoulders back we start to make changes in our body alignment that cause stress on our neck and back, and cause certain muscles to become very tight. How many of you can relate to the feeling of your neck and back feeling constantly tight?

When I see patients for neck and back related issues, almost all of them tell me that they carry all of their stress in their neck and back. Next, they proceed to tell me that they know that their posture isn’t good, and that they need to sit up straight with their shoulders back. They then tell me that when they try to sit with “good” posture it is too challenging to stay in that position for any amount of time because it is so tiring and it makes them feel even more tight. They often have made the connection that because this upright posture is hard to maintain it must mean that they are weak. The initial conversation usually ends with them telling me that they just need to learn some exercises to strengthen their back and shoulders.

After I have had the opportunity to hear their thoughts, I ask them if I might share my experience about what triggers these types of issues, and provide them a bit more information about how I can help them. I start to explain to them that everything that they thought they knew about posture is actually why they have started to have neck and back problems. It is why they feel so tight between their shoulders and in their low back. It is also even a big reason for why their legs get so tight from sitting. This is tough for many people to hear because for the most part their beliefs about what “good” posture is dates back to their childhood when their mom told them to “stand up straight with their shoulders back.” Most people won’t just let go of a belief that has been so deeply rooted, especially when the belief was instilled by such an important and trustworthy figure.

Next, I show them how with a few simple changes in how they think about their posture they can actually stand and sit without chronic tightness and pain. Typically within a few visits these patients come in telling me how they are amazed that all of their issues are almost gone, and how much easier it feels to maintain good posture with these new techniques. The comment I hear the most frequently is that it feels like a weight has literally been lifted off their shoulders.

Now, you might be wondering what exact cues I give my patients that have such a remarkable effect, and  so quickly. Draw the front of your ribs down, and make your spine as long as possible. These are the exact words that I tell each one of my patients. The reason that these cues are so effective is that they help get the rib cage and the pelvis into alignment with each other. This takes pressure off of the spine, especially at the neck and low back, allows the muscles at the upper, middle, and lower back to relax, and triggers the core muscles to engage. You will probably feel your abs automatically start to work when you do this! If this sounds too good to be true, I encourage you to give it a try. My bet is that you will notice a huge difference almost instantly, just like my patients have.

If you have been having issues with chronic neck or back pain, tightness in a variety of parts of your body that doesn’t seem to go away with stretching, or just want advice on how to improve your posture contact us at Sterling Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy to schedule an evaluation. Our team looks forward to working with you.


Dr. Torey Page, PT, DPT, OCS

Sterling Sports Medicine

We Help Athletes And Active Adults Move Better, Live Pain-Free, And Get Stronger Without Painkillers, Surgery, Or Injections.