Have you ever wondered how good your posture actually is?
Do you catch yourself trying to straighten up after sitting down for a while?
Or perhaps you find yourself a bit stiff and sore after spending some time in the garden or cleaning your house?
I'm sure there are a few of us who figure our posture could continue to do with some work. Additionally, posture has become somewhat of a buzz word in the health industry for a while now, and we have seen a number of different tricks and tools emerge to help with postural correction. A quick google search will show you a vast array of products, from compact shoulder braces to fancy digital reminders, and even some items that look more like straight jackets than health products!
So do I need to use a posture brace?
Everyone who works in a highly repetitive job is bound to adopt less than wonderful body positions from time to time, however, this does not mean a person requires a brace to improve their posture. I think that whilst posture is important and adopting good positions will improve daily function for most clients, poor posture is not always the critical factor it's made out to be. In my clinical experience, two groups of individuals benefit most from using a posture brace.
“ I wake up feeling good, but then after lunch and towards the end of the day I start to get this neck and back pain that just gets worse until I go home and rest”
In this group, clients often have neck or upper back pain whilst performing repetitive tasks or those which require sustained positions. Their pain will often be worse towards the end of the day as these positions or activities are maintained or repeated through the day. A good example of this, would be an individual with a desk job where pain develops half way through the day and progressively worsens. This signals to me that as the task duration (in this case, sitting behind the desk) increases, their muscles may lack endurance causing strain on other parts of the body that are not used to taking this load.
“ My doctor says I have shoulder bursitis, and I get pain when I am in certain positions like whilst driving or holding my child”
The second group are made up of those who present with pain in the front of the shoulder, and whom also have a positive response to postural taping. Your doctor or physio may have said you have shoulder bursitis, subacromial pain syndrome or shoulder impingement. In this condition, certain structures get caught as they run through a narrow gap between the shoulder blade and the clavicle. For this problem, both posture and shoulder position can be highly important considerations in alleviating symptoms. If you can allow the shoulder to sit in a position that allows more movement through this narrow gap, then the pain should settle and normal function begin to return. For such individuals. I will often trial postural taping and if it has a great result then I will recommend use of a posture brace. The brace can then help maintain better shoulder positioning especially during activities which previously caused pain.
So how do posture braces work?
A common misconception about posture braces is they need to force you into a ‘good posture’. The ideal role of a posture correction brace is not to force you into a position, but rather to provide feedback and enable self-correction. If the brace holds you in a straightened position and takes all the load, then your upper back muscles aren’t being used to improve your posture. This means as soon as you take it off you are likely to fall back into poor posture patterns.
The posture brace should provide some support in bringing your shoulders back, but its primary role is to help remind you to adopt the right position. When your body begins to fatigue or you get distracted performing a task, the brace provides tactile feedback to remind you to set your shoulder back. It gets you to turn on your upper back muscles and helps build muscle endurance. The ultimate goal is to taper off the brace, so by the time you no longer use the brace you have both sufficient endurance and self-awareness which will prevent you from adopting the poor positions.
When and how long should I wear it for?
You should take note of the key times in the day that you develop pain, make a list of those activities which are more likely to bring on your pain. If there are specific activities that cause pain, and are usually performed for several minutes, eg. gardening, or feeding your child, then I suggest using the brace for these activities as a means to reduce the likely onset of pain. If you develop pain during the work day, you can pick 2-3 times during the day to wear it. It is important to use it for small periods so you keep your muscle active and reduce possible irritation/rubbing from the brace itself.
It’s best to think of posture braces like training wheels on a bike, as you develop the balance and muscle memory for riding the bike, the less you need to rely on the training wheels for assistance, but you also need to progress to riding a normal bike as well. It is like the training wheels for you back. An important factor about using a brace, is that you should be combining this with targeted postural exercises. Thus as you wean off the brace, you have the strength and endurance to continue to move without pain.
So I think I need to try one, can you recommend something for me?
Here at BJC we stock Posture Medic’s, which are light and inconspicuous under jackets. Although the sizing is listed on the box you can always ask one of our friendly Physio’s or EP’s to help with fitting. What you are looking for is a light backwards pull on the shoulder, if you hunch forwards this tension should increase. Tight or uncomfortable braces should be avoided.
So is it for me?
If you think that you can wear a brace and everything will be fixed, unfortunately this will not be the miracle product you hoped for. However, if you need a tool that can help provide feedback about improving your posture, or need some assistance in building postural endurance then a brace can be great. Also for specific shoulder conditions they can help to alleviate pain in the short term. Just remember they should be used during activities that commonly cause you pain or when performing activities where your posture changes significantly over time. You should use the device intermittently with the plan to wean off it. Speak to your Physiotherapist or Exercise physiologist for exercises to do along with using the brace to gain optimal relief.