"Sit up straight!" "Don't slouch!" We've likely all heard those admonishing words more than once growing up. And most of us begrudgingly complied, having no concept of the anatomical rationale behind the prodding. So, what is posture anyway? And why is it so important?
In short, posture refers to the body's alignment and positioning with respect to the ever-present force of gravity. Whether we are standing, sitting or lying down, gravity exerts a force on our joints, ligaments and muscles. Good posture entails distributing the force of gravity through our body so no one structure is overstressed. Like a building with a poor foundation, a body with poor posture is less resistant to the strains and stresses we experience over the months, years and decades of life.
The sitting position is where most of us get into trouble with poor postural habits. This is especially true when driving or using a computer for extended periods of time. As we focus on the activity in front of us, we tend to protrude the head and neck forward. When this occurs, the weight of the head and upper body is no longer balanced over the spinal column, but instead must be supported by increased muscular energy and placing spinal ligaments on stretch. Over time this leads to fatigue and eventually even pain in the neck and upper back.
Sitting and standing with proper postural alignment not only allows alleviates strain on your body's ligaments and muscles, but also offers many other additional benefits. Here are just a few:
To achieve correct posture while standing, the ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should align in one straight line. To give you a mental image of what good posture looks like, imagine a plumb line running from your earlobe. If you have correct posture, the line would hang straight to the middle of your anklebone.
A big issue people have with achieving a neutral spine is getting the shoulders to line up where they should be. Most individuals with bad posture have shoulders that round forward, giving them that Quasimodo look. If you can’t tell if you’re rounding your shoulders forward, here’s a quick test:
Hang your hands down by your side. If the backs of your hands face forward, then you’ve got rounded shoulders. If your thumbs face forward, then your shoulders should be aligned for good posture.
Being aware of good posture is the first step to breaking old poor postural habits and reducing stress and strain on your spine. Standing straight and sitting upright just takes some intentionality and consistent work. To repeat an old adage you may have heard from your mother: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Thanks Mom!