Good Posture Calls Pain & Stress Fighting Hormones into Play

It’s tempting to curl into a ball when suffering physical or emotional pain – but straightening, expanding the chest, and breathing from the diaphragm calls up the body’s fighting spirit, researchers discover.

So Mom was right about standing up straight. Poor posture not only communicates weakness to others but “can actually make you physically weaker,” say researchers Scott Wiltermuth, at the University of Southern California, and Vanessa Bohns, at the University of Toronto.

And maybe more important, adopting a “dominant” rather than “submissive” posture actually decreases your sensitivity to pain, according to their new study, published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology“It hurts when I do this (or you do that): Posture and pain tolerance.” 

• By just adopting more dominant poses, people feel more powerful, in control and able to tolerate more distress.

• Out of the individuals studied, those who used the most dominant posture were able to comfortably handle more pain than those assigned a more neutral or submissive stance.

• Wiltermuth and Bohns also expanded on previous research that shows the posture of a person with whom you interact will affect your pose, behavior – and pain threshold.

Subjects who adopted a submissive pose in response to their partner’s dominant pose showed a lower threshold for pain.

This means, Wiltermuth & Bohns suggest:

“Fake it until you make it”

While most people will curl up into a ball when they are in pain, Bohn’s and Wiltermuth’s research suggests that one should do the opposite.

In fact, their research suggests that curling up into a ball may make the experience more painful because it will make you feel like you have no control over your circumstances, which may in turn intensify your anticipation of the pain.

Instead, try sitting or standing up straight, pushing your chest out and expanding your body. These behaviors can help create a sense of power and control that may in turn make the procedure more tolerable.

Based on previous research, adopting a powerful, expansive posture rather than constricting your body, may also lead to:

Elevated testosterone, which is associated with increased pain tolerance,

• And decreased cortisol, which may make the experience less stressful.

“Keeping your chin up might really work”

While prior research shows that individuals have used pain relievers to address emotional pain, it is possible that assuming dominant postures may make remembering a breakup or some distressing emotional event less painful.

“Caregivers need to let go”

Caregivers often try to baby those for whom they are caring to help make things easier and alleviate stress. In doing this, they force those they are caring for in a more submissive position – and thus, according to this new research, possibly render their patients more susceptible to experiencing pain.

Rather, this research suggests that caregivers take a more submissive position and surrender control to those who are about to undergo a painful procedure to lessen the intensity of the pain experienced.

[Note: Leading Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS clinicians agree on the benefits of upright posture and deep breathing from the diaphragm. See for example the recent article by clinical nutritionist Blake Graham, “Disordered Breathing in ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia – Symptoms and Recovery.”


Source: University of Southern California news release, Jul 12, 2011

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