Most of the back pain people feel today is mechanical, which means that it is caused by unnatural stresses and strains. One leading cause of mechanical back pain is poor posture. Everyone knows that it is important to sit and stand up straight, but there may be a barrier to correcting posture besides habit: personality.
Sulvain Guimond of the San Diego University for Integrative Studies teamed up with Wael Massrieh of the Division of Experimental Medicine and the Department of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal to author a study entitled “Intricate Correlation between Body Posture, Personality Trait and Incidence of Body Pain: A Cross-Referential Study Report.” The study examined to what extent personality affects posture and back pain.
The study used the well-trusted Meyers-Briggs personality assessment to place its 100 participants into different personality groups. The assessment categorizes your personality according to whether you are introverted or extroverted; whether you prefer receiving basic information as is (Sensing) or interpreting meaning (Intuition); whether you first resort to logic (Thinking) or special circumstances (Feeling); and whether you prefer to make a decision and stick to it (Judging) or remain flexible (Perceiving).
The study also included a postural assessment which consisted of taking pictures of participants in certain positions and placing markers on their bodies to assess alignment. Each participant’s posture was categorized into one of four groups: ideal, kypholordotic, swayback and flatback. Ideal posture is upright, with the natural lumbar arch maintained. Kypholordotic posture involves an increase in both the lumbar arch and the outward curve in the thoracic spine. Swayback is similar to kypholordosis, but with the hips and head jutting out further. Finally, flatback posture is present when the lumbar arch is completely lacking, causing the spine to be straight and the neck and head to pitch forward.
The last measurement considered by this study was self-reported back pain intensity levels to establish a link between posture and back pain.
The study found extroversion and introversion to be the main correlations between personality and posture. Of the 22 participants that were found to have ideal posture, 21 of them (94%) tested as extroverts. 74% of participants with swayback posture tested as introverts.
The other Meyers-Briggs preferences that showed correlation to posture were judging and perceiving. 77% of those with ideal posture tested as perceiving types.
Finally, pain levels were assessed. As to be expected, the ideal posture group had significantly less back pain than the other groups, particularly the swayback and flatback groups.
An in-depth description of this study can be found at www.plosone.org.
Introversion, or a tendency to take interest in one’s own thoughts and feelings more than the external world and the people in it, is linked to swayback posture with its markedly stooped shoulders and caved-in chest. Perhaps the psychological inward tendency manifests physically as a sort of caving-in; perhaps this posture is linked to an avoidance of eye contact or desire not to draw attention to oneself. Not all introverts are shy and afraid of social situations, but they are generally less ambitious to seek them out.
The connection between perceiving, judging and posture may stem from muscle tension. Those who have less flexible personalities may manifest their rigidity physically. Shoulder tension is a key determinant of posture; if shoulders, are loose, they can be kept low and the head held high. Tight shoulders distort the position of the head and neck, which affects the spine all the way day.
While this study doesn’t prescribe a cure for back pain, it gives insight into the mind-body connection that is likely involved in many instances of posture-related back pain. It does hint to the likelihood that attempts to improve posture may be incomplete without addressing social anxieties and unconscious muscle tensing.