The importance of good posture
Whether you are sitting, standing, walking or even lying down, having good posture allows for the correct distribution of forces throughout the body, particularly the spine. In the correct postural position, the spine acts as a shock absorber for forces acting on the body, and when this load is distributed evenly we can avoid unnecessary strain on joints, ligaments, and musculature throughout the body.
Benefits of having good posture
The benefits associated with having good posture are significant. With correct posture, muscles can efficiently and effectively support the body without placing the additional load in susceptible places such as the neck and low back. It also helps decrease muscular fatigue, particularly for the smaller spinal extensor muscles, which often become overactive and weak to compensate for poor alignment. Correct postural alignment also decreases the chances of developing joint conditions such as arthritis and prevents strain and overuse injuries through the muscles and ligaments.
Aside from preventing pain and dysfunction, proper posture allows you to breathe efficiently. Having a constantly slumped posture impairs the lung’s ability to expand as you inhale, and the diaphragms ability to rise and lower in response to changes in the lungs. If you’ve ever felt unusually sleepy while sitting at your desk, chances are you’re slumping forward and not breathing very well!
So what does good posture actually look like? Practitioners will often use refer to the “Plumb Line” to assess a persons posture from a front, back and side view. When viewing a person from the side, the Plumb Line should run through the following landmarks:
- Lobe of the ear
- Directly through the shoulder when the arm is relaxed at the side
- Through the midline of the torso
- Through the greater trochanter of the femur
- Slightly forward of the midline of the knee
- Slightly forward of the lateral malleolus (ankle) but behind the midline of the foot
To do a quick posture check on yourself, stand with your back against a wall. Ideally, your heels, glutes, ribcage, scapulas, and back of your skull should be back against the wall. When you step away from the wall try and maintain that posture, particularly through the shoulders and neck.
Poor posture can be caused by a variety of factors: Injuries that cause a favoring of one side of the body more than the other; structural conditions such as scoliosis; habitual patterns such as sitting at a desk or crossing the legs; degenerative changes that occur with age; and weaknesses caused by inactivity. Identifying the cause of your poor posture is imperative for developing an effective program to correct these issues and improve mobility.
Perhaps the most difficult cause to address is the habitual movement patterns in our everyday life, particularly if you are sitting at a desk for extended periods of time. Consider how you tend to sit in your chair and whether the setup of your desk is suitable for your height. Taking regular breaks and incorporating some small exercises into your daily routine can make a significant impact on your posture. These guidelines can also apply to those who drive or sit for extended periods of time or people who are generally inactive.
Specific strength-based exercises are the most effective way to improve your posture, and your exercise physiologist or physiotherapist can develop a program that will suit your postural needs and can be incorporated into your everyday routine.