Why do people develop bad posture?
June 3, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Why do people develop bad posture? If it is true that good posture requires less energy to maintain, lines everything up correctly, and is more comfortable than bad posture, then why do people develop habits of slouching and otherwise maintaining bad posture? N.B. I am not wondering why people who have already developed bad posture tend to maintain that habit or why people will occasionally reposition themselves for a few minutes in order to loosen up or relax their muscles. My question is why people learn to regularly have bad posture if good posture is so much "better" mechanically.
posted by philosophygeek to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I started slouching in elementary school. I was a good head taller than the other girls (and most boys) in my class, and it made me very self-conscious. Slouching put me at a more "normal" height.
posted by Ruki at 7:37 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sitting in chairs is not something we are adapted to do without unusual stress placed on our body. Starting at around age five a person spends a major portion of their day sitting down so it makes sense that our posture becomes screwed up.
posted by Loto at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

like ruki, i was much taller than my class. i also got my tits a good 3 years before most of the girls. add the fact that i was one of the geeks and picked on for a variety of things. shortening my stature was one of the many defense mechanisms i developed.

scoliosis is also a factor.
posted by nadawi at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2009

I imagine that a decent all-round & balanced structure of muscles aids posture. People who don't exercise much might find slouching easier than the "mechanically better" posture that you talk about, which evolved while humans were much more physically active.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:54 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I studied ballet as a child, and therefore had awesome posture. It's still very good, relatively speaking, but all those years of sitting in school desks really ate away at it. You have to hunch over to work and there's not enough room for your elbow and...they're just not conducive to maintaining good posture. Office furniture is not much better.
posted by desuetude at 8:02 PM on June 3, 2009

Basically it's a matter of keeping that big, heavy head centered over the spine for best support. When your spine is screwed up, like mine was (minor scoliosis at birth, as mentioned by nadawi above), it makes that centering a little more difficult. I can best support my head when in a slouching position. I still try not to do it... but when fatigued it's harder.
posted by netbros at 8:02 PM on June 3, 2009

I always figured that it was because many of us have sedentary lives, and haven't naturally developed the muscles in our core that support a natural, good posture.
posted by Kololo at 8:13 PM on June 3, 2009

I have been working with a Pilates trainer for the last few months, and my posture has improved dramatically, as has my awareness of things that undermine it. For instance, one of my bad habits is leaning forward from the neck to peer at the computer screen instead of increasing font size on web sites.

I'm also become aware of how many chairs undermine correct posture. Many (if not most) chairs make it very hard to maintain a correct posture, now that I know what a correct posture feels like!

For me, it seems like lots of things in the environment undermine proper body mechanics, and not having a good idea of what proper mechanics feel like (when my trainer first got me into an upright posture, it actually felt like I was leaning backward), I didn't do anything to resist the environment.

Oh, in my case, also, I wear a K-cup bra.
posted by not that girl at 8:21 PM on June 3, 2009

"If it is true that good posture requires less energy to maintain, lines everything up correctly, and is more comfortable than bad posture"

Surely all three of those assertions are open to question, as is the very definition of "good posture", which is culturally determined.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:24 PM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

I was also taller than my classmates as a child. As an adult female at 5'10", I'm still taller than most people. Hunching was, and is, just an easier way to blend in more naturally. While I stand straighter now, when I relax I slouch out of bad habit, and for some reason it just feels more comfortable.
posted by sephira at 8:25 PM on June 3, 2009

Test: ask a yoga practitioner, an Alexander technique teacher, a Pilates teacher, a physiotherapist, and a drill sergeant what consitutes good standing posture. Then ask them why that posture is "good", and what research informs their answer.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:33 PM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

I don't know if 'good posture' is that culturally determined; I will say that I learned 'good posture' after a back injury. (Slouching puts a lot of pressure on your lower back). This is the same posture I use when I play Judo, and is also incidentally the same posture you're supposed to use when you're dancing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:38 PM on June 3, 2009

As a tall-ish guy (6'1") I'll join the chorus of women saying that they developed a slouch to blend in more; I often catch myself standing up straight when around people as tall as myself, but around shorter people I tend to slouch.

Also, the chair thing is quite valid. As an adult I've taken to slouching backwards excessively when I work, in lieu of slouching and leaning forward, and now that I've taken to riding a scooter (on which I'm more comfortable if I roll my hips back and hold my back straight) eight miles a day instead of driving, my posture in general has improved.
posted by davejay at 9:53 PM on June 3, 2009

Another freakishly-tall-in-middle-school guy who kept it going in high school to anger his parents, rocking a slouch in my late 30s.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:09 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my case (I'm a shortie at 5 feet 2 / 1.55 meters), it was the years of heavy backpacks and how it was considered trendy in the late 80s and 90s to wear backpacks lower than they should be. Also, as an adult, I spend far too much time hunched over a computer.

Pilates and Chinese medical massage (tui na) has worked wonders for my posture since. When my TCM doctor first cracked my spine, my back automatically fell into proper posture. Once you realize what it's like to have good posture, you become more aware of hunching and slouching.
posted by so much modern time at 1:00 AM on June 4, 2009

I have a problem with my posture as well. My doctor says that nowadays people walk too much in shoes and on flat surfaces, which doesn't stimulate the feet muscles enough to develop properly. The underdeveloped feet muscles affect all of the other muscles in the body. I wear active insoles which stimulate the feet muscles. For the first two weeks of wearing them, I had muscle pain everywhere - from obvious muscles such as lower back and traps, to the muscles in my hands, but my posture improved dramatically.
posted by ye#ara at 6:32 AM on June 4, 2009

I think it's just a case of some muscles getting used more than others as you live your normal day-to-day life. As this happens, the stronger muscles pull your body out of it's natural alignment.

I've spent a lot of time lately working on balancing some of these muscular imbalances and my posture has improved as a side effect.
posted by PFL at 7:38 AM on June 4, 2009

I'm pretty tall (6'4") and end up slouching just to hear people and make eye contact.
posted by valadil at 8:39 AM on June 4, 2009

i also got my tits a good 3 years before most of the girls.

This. I distinctly remember slouching in 4th grade so they wouldn't stand out because I was so developed. Even now as an adult I still do it a little. No one likes it when people talk to their chest and if you have a big chest its hard for people not to notice.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:52 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My sweetie had a permanent hunch until he finally got decent meds for his hiatus hernia. Before that, he was almost always in pain and bent because of it. After meds, the chiropractor straightened him up for the first time in years and we found out he's an inch taller.
posted by x46 at 10:24 AM on June 4, 2009

I think some people's body types are more prone to slouching than others. If you have a long back and wide shoulders for example, slouching is a lot more comfortable than sitting up straight, especially at desks and for computer work. My entire family has a similar slouch going on, and while it certainly doesn't look particularly attractive, none of us has back problems or posture issues that affect us in our active lives (yoga, judo, karate, etc).

There is also some recent research that indicates slouching might be more healthy than sitting up straight ...
posted by shownomercy at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2009

According to science, it's not bad posture.

This is a myth.
posted by gte910h at 10:03 PM on June 4, 2009

I was teased a lot in elementary school and always the tallest kid in my class. I slouched so I wouldn't be noticed, and then like M.C. Lo-Carb! I kept it up in high school because it bothered my parents so much. Now I want to look as tall as I really am I can't manage to kick the habit, which sucks.
posted by lilac girl at 10:58 AM on June 6, 2009

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