Mitigating Postural Strain (Part 1)

Managing Strain to Minimize Pain

Remember: Any physical stress on the body can result in strain if the stressors pull, push or stretch a tissue to the point of subjective discomfort or damage. And strain can cause pain!

While our bodies are constantly being bombarded by the stresses of gravity, which primes us for strain, there are ways to mitigate the effects: managing the strain and preparing for it.

In this post, we’ll discuss two practical strategies that can help you to manage strain in static postures, like sitting and standing. Then, in our next post, “Mitigating Postural Strain (Part 2): Becoming Strain Resilient,” we’ll outline ways to prepare for and make your body more resistant to strain.

2 practical strategies to manage postural strain

It’s an unfortunate inevitability: Any static posture that’s held for any length of time will stress specific tissues and cause strain in the body. Managing strain requires accepting that fact and then, taking steps to decrease the stress and resulting strain.  

This can be done in a number of ways, but a combination of the following strategies is the best solution:

1) Build better ergonomics:

Consider modifying your work/life spaces, using devices that can help you to maintain better postural alignment as you go about your daily activities (e.g., using an office chair that’s set up to accommodate an “ideal” sitting posture; see Figure 1 below).

[For more detail on the “ideal” posture, check out this post.]

As mentioned in a previous post, while sitting upright in ideal posture can decrease the strain on the joints of the back, soft-tissue strain can still occur with time, it takes muscular effort to stay in such a position. With the support of a properly set up chair and workstation (see Figure 1 below), the effort needed to stay upright is lower since the chair itself can do some of the work for you. That is, of course, if the chair is used properly….

Figure 1. Simply having a good chair is not enough! No matter how fancy it is and how well it’s set up to accommodate your body, improper use of a desk chair will negate any benefits it may provide you.

Best practices state that the individual takes full advantage of the backrest, by abutting their pelvis up to the backrest and using it as an external aid to achieve an upright sitting posture (B). Yet, whether knowingly or otherwise, many people don’t use the backrest of their chairs (A), sometimes sitting away from it or by perching on the edge of their seat. In not allowing the backrest to hold them up, it places the onus on the individual to keep themselves upright with no external support. Conversely, they may make contact with the backrest, but have their pelvis too far forward, allowing it to rock back and put their spine into a slouched position (C). With time, this posture may strain various regions of the body, especially the lower back and neck.

Keep in mind: A well-adjusted chair is not necessarily a comprehensive solution.

While sitting in an ergonomically designed chair may delay strain from sinking in to some regions of the back, it doesn’t take into account other areas of the body, like the neck and shoulders, hips, or upper extremities.

Remember that every body is different, and some people are more sensitive to strain and therefore perceive it more, or earlier. So, while some individuals may remain strain-free for hours on end, others might only last a fraction of a typical workday before they begin to feel discomfort. Differences in sensitivity of soft tissues and muscular endurance are likely the cause of such variation.

At the same time, there’s no denying that prolonged sitting has also been shown to have detrimental affects on our overall health.


Standing workstations are all the rage these days. And rightfully so: Having the option to vary one’s posture while working—from sitting to standing—can be very beneficial, as standing upright in an “ideal posture” may take some stress off the discs of the lower back, thereby decreasing their risk of injury.

But remember: Standing is still a static posture. Therefore, it can still cause strain over time, which can lead to injury. Further, one can still slouch while working at a standing desk, which can strain their upper back, shoulders and neck

But remember: Standing is still a static posture. Therefore, it can still cause strain over time, which can lead to injury. Further, one can still slouch while working at a standing desk, which can strain their upper back, shoulders and neck

Although the effects may be limited, utilizing the principles of ergonomics can aid in the passive management of postural strain.


the most comfortable posture is the NEXT posture

2) Redistribute the strain through movement:

Breaking up periods of static posture with movement acts like a bit of a “reset” switch for strain. How? Due to the dynamic nature of movement, it transfers and redistributes stresses to other regions of the body, alleviating areas of the strain caused by stasis and giving the strained tissue has a chance to recover. As an added bonus, movement also mobilizes stiffened joints (think: “motion is lotion”) and gets blood flowing to tight, poorly nourished muscles.

Figure 2. Redistributing stress increases tolerance to strain. Even a relatively small load applied over time can decrease our tolerance for it and eventually lead to strain. The stress (“applied load”) to the tissues of our back, neck and shoulders while sitting can progressively reduce our tolerance and lead to strain. However, if you were to give the affected tissue a break, by temporarily redistributing the stress to other tissues (e.g., getting up and moving), then a decline in tolerance for the stress would be curbed.

And so, we see at “1,” an individual’s tolerance for an applied load (such as a stress related to posture) diminishes with time. However, at “2,” the individual’s tolerance can recover if the applied load is taken away, even for a short period of time. 

While you can get pretty specific with the type of movement and its resulting benefits to the tissues of your body (topic of future blog posts)—from simple movements to ones that are custom tailored to your occupational needs—generally, the most important part is simply this: get up and move.

You don’t need a lot of time to feel the differencesA minute of movement every 30–40 minutes may be enough to mitigate strain. At this rate, a well-informed and well-meaning employer would require all employees to take movement breaks every 30 minutes. Such an approach would help minimize work-related strain, and could potentially lead to greater productivity. 

The most comfortable posture is the NEXT posture

Redistribution of stress from a strained region to another can partially be accomplished without even getting up. All it takes is varying one’s posture slightly from the one that’s currently causing strain.

This might mean that you shift into a posture that falls outside of the “ideal”: Even slouching can be safe as long as it’s only maintained for a short period of time!

Cycling though several postures at short intervals, broken up by returning to the ideal/ more strain-resistant posture, may be a good strategy. As with movement in general, variability is the key, and as most find, the most comfortable posture is the next posture.

Conclusion: Strain can’t be avoided…manage it instead!

Managing strain in static postures is an important component in mitigating postural strain. However, a comprehensive approach also includes strategies that make us more resilient to postural strain, including conditioning techniques. The following article will expand on this.

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