A New Market
Businesses have started selling many new and innovative electrical postural devices. These developers used good concepts and theories behind the product’s development. However, as someone who has studied posture and movement extensively, I have concerns. Before I get started, I want to say that there is no to little research on these devices. This means what I write here may not hold true with research. I do base my assessments off of what I know about human posture and movement. In addition, one important thing to remember about the human body is variability. This means that while I may recommend the use or advise against the use of some devices, exceptions will exist.
Electrical Postural Devices: Thoracic Stimulation
As a physical therapist, I get a lot of advertisements for devices that you put on your upper back. They stimulate you when you hunch over so that you sit up tall again. This is a perfectly reasonable in theory. However, I have concerns about the devices’ long term effects on posture. Here’s why:
Fast versus slow fibers
By sending a “zap”, these devices likely turn on fast twitch fibers in your back versus the slow twitch fibers. Why does that matter? Fast-twitch fibers are the muscle fibers responsible for movement. So while they do a good job getting you back into the correct posture, they can’t hold you there. That’s the job of the slow twitch muscle fibers.
Thoracic spine versus hips
They address posture at the thoracic spine (upper back), but that likely isn’t where the problem starts. Likely, the position of the feet or hips influences the position of the thoracic spine. While correcting the thoracic spine’s posture could influence the hips, it may not for everybody and probably not for most. This could end up causing bigger problems with the upper body sitting up tall on a disengaged lower body.
Finally, there is a certain portion of the population that will fall into poor posture too frequently for these devices to help. One important part of working with highly involved pediatric population includes preventing them from over-stretching. One thing that happens to many kids in this population (especially during therapy) is they will sit upright, then lose their balance and fall down into a stretched out position. When a muscle is stretched into the max 1/3 of its range, and neurological response occurs that makes it harder to stimulate it. Therefore, these kids keep stretching out there postural muscles, making it harder to recruit.
This process also happens with an adult sitting at a desk. The adult slouches forwards, then pulls back up, then slouches forwards again. This process is detrimental to the development of postural muscles which require long periods of activation in the shortened range. I would treat kids who could not hold their head up. If I picked their head up, then let it fall back down, I actually damaged their ability to hold their head up. Potentially, even more than if I just let the head hang down.
Other devices monitor the movement at the hips or lumbar spine ((low back). These devices likely initiate correct posture at the proper starting point (the hips). They may though, still pose many of the problems of turning on the wrong muscle fibers or causing excessive stretch reflexes. Still, others fit around the neck and inform you when you are looking down. This device again, won’t turn on deep postural muscles, but it may inform you when you unconsciously look down at your phone.
Another device that a person wears on the wrist analyzes gait. It apparently can measure movement patterns all the way to your feet. This device has a lot of potential. From what I can tell, though, it will have more use as an assessment tool than a treatment tool. If you have uneven arm swing, swing speed, or rotational angle, something deeper may underlie it. You probably won’t address it just by swinging your arms at a different speed. I see this device being used as a way to measure improvements or something physical therapists use for assessment.
Several devices measure stress levels through a variety of methods. There are glasses that monitor eye movement, devices that measure blood pressure and heart rate, and others that measure the depth of breathing. These devices don’t have a ton of research behind them. They may help people realize when they get stressed and what brings on the stress. This can have value in addressing life change or helping learn when to take a break.
Even the electrical postural devices of which I am most critical will have value in certain situations. If you have concerns about your posture, you can use the devices. If using the devices, be sure to follow a few extra steps to guarantee better results.
- Once you sit up tall, put both feet on the floor and feel your hips and feet root down towards the floor.
- You can even put your hand on top of your head and gently push down. The compression will help turn on your postural muscles.
- If getting into the correct position is difficult, you may have soft tissue restrictions that need addressing.
- Try to incorporate standing and walking into your day with a standing desk and walking meeting when viable.
- Finally, the number one piece of advice I can give to anyone working on posture is to take deep, diaphragmatic, (belly) breathes. The diaphragm is the first postural muscle and a strong diaphragm will allow and assist all the other postural muscles to turn and stay activated.