Posture is the position in which we hold our bodies while standing, sitting, or lying down. Good posture is the correct alignment of body parts supported by the right amount of muscle tension against gravity. Without posture and the muscles that control it, we would simply fall to the ground.
Normally, we do not consciously maintain normal posture. Instead, certain muscles do it for us, and we don’t even have to think about it. Several muscle groups, including the hamstrings and large back muscles, are critically important in maintaining good posture. While the ligaments help to hold the skeleton together, these postural muscles, when functioning properly, prevent the forces of gravity from pushing us over forward. Postural muscles also maintain our posture and balance during movement.
Good posture helps us stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions that place the least strain on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement and weight-bearing activities. Correct posture:
- Helps us keep bones and joints in correct alignment so that our muscles are used correctly, decreasing the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain.
- Reduces the stress on the ligaments holding the spinal joints together, minimizing the likelihood of injury.
- Allows muscles to work more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy and, therefore, preventing muscle fatigue.
- Helps prevent muscle strain, overuse disorders, and even back and muscular pain.
To maintain proper posture, you need to have adequate muscle flexibility and strength, normal joint motion in the spine and other body regions, as well as efficient postural muscles that are balanced on both sides of the spine. In addition, you must recognize your postural habits at home and in the workplace and work to correct them, if necessary.
Poor posture can lead to excessive strain on our postural muscles and may even cause them to relax, when held in certain positions for long periods of time. For example, you can typically see this in people who bend forward at the waist for a prolonged time in the workplace. Their postural muscles are more prone to injury and back pain.
Several factors contribute to poor posture–most commonly, stress, obesity, pregnancy, weak postural muscles, abnormally tight muscles, and high-heeled shoes. In addition, decreased flexibility, a poor work environment, incorrect working posture, and unhealthy sitting and standing habits can also contribute to poor body positioning.
How do I stand properly?
- Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.
- Keep your knees slightly bent.
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Let your arms hang naturally down the sides of the body.
- Stand straight and tall with your shoulders pulled backward.
- Tuck your stomach in.
- Keep your head level-your earlobes should be in line with your shoulders. Do not push your head forward, backward, or to the side.
- Shift your weight from your toes to your heels, or one foot to the other, if you have to stand for a long time.
Proper Sitting Posture
- Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
- All 3 normal back curves should be present while sitting. A small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll can be used to help you maintain the normal curves in your back.
- Sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely.
- Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds.
- Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
- Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
- Bend your knees at a right angle. Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips. (use a foot rest or stool if necessary). Your legs should not be crossed.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
- At work, adjust your chair height and work station so you can sit up close to your work and tilt it up at you. Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
- When sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, don’t twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your whole body.
- When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat of your chair. Stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist. Immediately stretch your back by doing 10 standing backbends.
Correct Driving Position
- Use a back support (lumbar roll) at the curve of your back. Your knees should be at the same level or higher than your hips.
- Move the seat close to the steering wheel to support the curve of your back. The seat should be close enough to allow your knees to bend and your feet to reach the pedals.
Proper Lifting Posture
- If you must lift objects, do not try to lift objects that are awkward or are heavier than 30 pounds.
- Before you lift a heavy object, make sure you have firm footing.
- To pick up an object that is lower than the level of your waist, keep your back straight and bend at your knees and hips. Do not bend forward at the waist with your knees straight
- Stand with a wide stance close to the object you are trying to pick up and keep your feet firm on the ground. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift the object using your leg muscles. Straighten your knees in a steady motion. Don’t jerk the object up to your body.
- Stand completely upright without twisting. Always move your feet forward when lifting an object.
- If you are lifting an object from a table, slide it to the edge to the table so that you can hold it close to your body. Bend your knees so that you are close to the object. Use your legs to lift the object and come to a standing position.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects above waist level.
- Hold packages close to your body with your arms bent. Keep your stomach muscles tight. Take small steps and go slowly.
- To lower the object, place your feet as you did to lift, tighten stomach muscles and bend your hips and knees.
Correcting posture is possible with practice. Remember, however, that long-standing postural problems will typically take longer to address than short-lived ones, as often the joints have adapted to your long-standing poor posture. Conscious awareness of your own posture and knowing what posture is correct will help you consciously correct yourself. With much practice, the correct posture for standing, sitting, and lying down will gradually replace your old posture. This, in turn, will help you move toward a better and healthier body position.
Your Doctor of Chiropractic can assist you with proper posture, including recommending exercises to strengthen your core postural muscles. He or she can also assist you with choosing proper postures during your activities, helping reduce your risk of injury.