Posture

Your doctor tells you your posture is poor, you go to a seminar at work on back care at work and they say "Watch your posture", an advertisement on TV says this gaget will help you "watch your posture". You look in the shop window as you pass and suddenly realise that you're not as upright as you used to be. Does this sound familiar?

More people realise that good posture is important, but are not sure exactly what it is. Saying that good posture is valuable does little to explain what good posture actually is and why it is so vital.

Posture is the position of the parts of your body in relation to each other. Your posture constantly changes depending on the activity; but no matter what you are doing, there is a way of holding and moving your body that is balanced and efficient. This is called good posture. It is a state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the bones, ligaments and muscles of the body against injury or progressive deformity.

Good posture makes movement more effective and more energy efficient, whilst minimising stress. We talk about the body being in balance. If someone has good posture in standing, for example, when measuring muscle activity in this position you will find there is almost none to be recorded, because the skeletal frame is perfectly balanced and does not require additional support from the muscles.

Your posture is second nature to you, a taken-for-granted habit. If you have poor posture, probably others are more aware of it than you are. You may be aware only of chronic fatigue, headaches or backaches which can stem from poor posture. Poor posture causes muscular strain, particularly of the spinal muscles and therefore wastes energy. It produces uneven stress on spinal joints and discs and may cause permanent damage.

When postural habits are good, you can work and play longer without fatigue because your muscles work more efficiently. Your spine has a chance to develop normally and your internal organs function better. You look healthier and happier, your clothes fit better, and you make a better impression on others.

Poor postural habits can lead to secondary problems, e.g. stiffness of the joints in the mid/upper back and hip, excessive movement of the joints in the neck and low back, pressure on nerves, lengthened and weakened muscles or tightened and overly strong muscles. All of these can produce pain and disability and destroy the natural balance of the body.

Achieving the state of 'perfect balance'

This state of "perfect balance" is best achieved by:-

  1. Avoiding a poking chin position and keeping your head level so that a perpendicular line dropped from just below your eye will hit your collar bone. This should have the effect of lifting your breast bone up a little and make you stand a bit taller.
  2. Allow your shoulders to relax so that the arms hang loosely by your sides.
  3. Tighten your tummy muscles as hard as you can without holding your breath, then let them relax by just over half. Try to maintain that level of tension as you go about the daily activities.
  4. When standing or sitting get into the habit of tightening the backside muscles. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds then relax. Try to consciously tighten them a little when walking. You will find that if you use your stomach muscles as suggested then your bottom muscles will automatically work more when you are walking.
  5. When you stand, your lower back should curve slightly. This curve called a lordosis helps to distribute your weight properly through the spine and pelvis. The discs located between each of the vertebrae act as shock absorbers. Excessive pressure within the discs may, when sitting, cause damage, but this can be avoided through proper posture.
  6. The knees should be straight but not locked, stomach flat, ribs raised, shoulders and head erect. Pretend you are balancing a book on your head. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both legs. You should be relaxed not as though you are on sentry duty!
  7. Walk tall with your feet pointing straight ahead. Your arms should swing freely from your sides. Look straight ahead; never down.

In summary

  • Stand tall
  • Walk tall
  • Sit tall

Set aside the time every day to do some exercise. It takes time, but the results are worth it. Overall, your spinal and extremity joints will tend not to wear out as quickly and you are helping to decrease the occurrence of musculoskeletal problems which can result in pain, weakness and limited social and physical activities. It also means fewer visits to your general practitioner, less costs in medication and treatment and a better quality of life.

Sitting posture

As you sit, your pelvis rotates and the lordosis or low lumbar curve is flattened. Good seats and proper sitting posture help reduce this effect and ease the pressure on the discs. Sit tall with both feet flat on the floor, your whole back against the chair back, and your head erect. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both buttocks.

Good seats and how to use them

At home — make sure your back is supported comfortably. Use arm rests if available. If you are sitting for long periods, shift your position from time to time.

At work — avoid hunching forward, if using a stool, place it close to your work surface, so as to rest your arms comfortably. Also use the height adjustment if available to assure comfortable positioning.

While driving — Move the seat far enough forward to allow knees and elbows to be slightly bent as you reach for the steering wheel and pedals. Use added low back supports if needed.

What to avoid

  1. using straight back chairs with no low back support;
  2. slouching while driving;
  3. using soft seats, such as sofas;
  4. using flat stools with hard surfaces and no height adjustments;
  5. reaching for your work; instead move your stool close enough to the work surface to allow comfortable positioning;
  6. putting seat too ar back or forward;
  7. using flat seat backs unless a supportive cushion can be used.

Sleeping

Sleep on your side or back. Do not sleep on your stomach as this will aggravate "sway back" and forcibly turn the head to one side. Your pillow should be just high enough to keep your head in line with the rest of your spine. Good quality down or down and feather pillows are best. Avoid synthetic materials (allergies permitting) as these tend to be too bouncy for delicate necks. The mattress should be soft enough to fit the normal curves of the body, yet firm enough not to sag generally.

Stretching for tight muscles, strengthening of weak muscles and awareness of working positions are the major lines of defence. Bad postural habits, tightness and weakness are built over a long period of time and inactivity. If this has become a problem or has been identified as a problem by your physiotherapist, you must do some type of corrective activity throughout the day, every day to make it work for you.

Make sure you know what you should be doing. If you are unsure what your individual problems are consult your local physiotherapist.

Read about more common conditions, or contact us to find out how we can help.