Posture is defined as, “the alignment or orientation of body segments while maintaining an upright position” (Fortin, Feldman, Cheriet, Labelle, 2011, p.367).
What is poor posture?
Poor posture is when the body is not in alignment. Signs of poor posture include but are not limited to rounded shoulders, a forward head position and/or a protruding stomach.
What is the problem with it?
When in correct posture, the joints, ligaments and muscles of the neck and back are positioned optimally so they are under minimal stress. The more posture deviates from the correct position, the greater the stress placed on the structures that work to maintain it. Poor posture can not only be aesthetically unpleasing, but it can also create other body ailments. Several accompanying complications include:
1. Back Pain – back pain is due to strained muscles which occur when the spine is not in proper alignment (due to being hunched over or keeping head down to read off of a computer screen) and excess stress is placed on back muscles, ligaments and discs.
2. Tension headaches – when the shoulders and head are slumped over, the muscles in the neck, upper back and shoulders become tight. After prolonged tightness, there is nerve irritation which restricts proper blood flow to the back of the head and neck.
Why does it happen?
Poor sitting and standing posture habits normally begins to develop once a child goes to school. Before the age of four, children generally have good posture and body mechanics. Once abnormal postural habits are developed, they continue and become exaggerated with age. Muscles tend to get tighter and shortened and/or lengthened soft tissues continue to get weaker. Poor posture can also develop following an injury. The individual may alter their position to protect the injury or reduce pain. The tissues and joints themselves can become abnormal because of the injury which can change posture as well. The more posture deviates from the correct position, the greater the stress placed on the structures that work to maintain it.
What is good posture?
Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.
- Tongue on the roof of the mouth, neutral bite, no clenched teeth
- Slight convex curve of the neck with no tilt & rotation to one side, chin poke or retraction
- No shoulder blade drooping, elevation, or winging
- Level collar bones
- Slight concave curve of the middle back, no big ‘hunch’
- Slight convex curve of the lower back, no big hollow
- Even heights of the pelvic crests
- No big forward or backward tilt of the pelvis
- Knees slightly bent, not hyper extended
- Even weight on both feet with weight going down through the arches
- Keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.
- Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in arthritis.
- Decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together.
- Prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions.
- Prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
- Prevents strain or overuse problems.
- Prevents backache and muscular pain.
- Contributes to a good appearance.
How do I get good posture?
Seek advice and assistance from a physiotherapist. Physiotherapists are able to identify postural patterns and are aware of how the bony structures and soft tissues interact with one another (Britnell et al., 2005). They base their conclusions through both subjective and objective measurements. Physiotherapists are able to provide stretches for tight muscles, exercises for strengthening weak muscles and treatment via modalities and manual therapy. By addressing and treating the identified postural concerns, in addition to other findings, physiotherapists help patients achieve their highest level of physical functioning (Britnell et al., 2005).
Self-adjustment is another way to develop good posture. Once you are aware of how the body should be aligned (tongue at roof of mouth, shoulders back, neutral position of back etc.), it is necessary to practice while in sitting, in standing, while lying down and during activities. Imagine that there is a string being tautly pulled at the top of your head and is making you sit up straight.
Another time of day that it is important to keep a neutral position is while sleeping. Sometimes, the position we choose to sleep in causes more stress on joints and muscles; we then wake up with more aches and pains than when we fell asleep. It is hard to maintain neutral positions as you sleep, but there are certain ways of sleeping that are better than others. The healthiest way to sleep is on your side. In this position, your knees are slightly brought to your chest and it is recommended to put a pillow between your knees to keep the spine in alignment. Try not to place arms underneath body (head, between knees, etc.) because the weight will cause circulatory problems and a related pins-and-needles type feeling sensation (JOACA, 2011). A full-length body pillow can be useful to maintain this side-lying position.
If you are unable to stop sleeping on your back, try placing a small rolled towel under the small of your back for more support and if you are unable to stop sleeping on your stomach, reduce strain by placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen (JOACA, 2011). If you are asleep in either of these positions, the head is normally turned to one side or the other. In this head position, the muscles of the neck are shortened on one side and lengthened on the other. Over time this can cause musculoskeletal problems of the neck, upper back and shoulders.
In any sleeping position, it is important to have an appropriate pillow. If the pillow is too high or too low, the cervical spine undergoes considerable strain which can cause nerve compression, muscular imbalances and muscle pain. When lying down to sleep, ensure the pillow fills the space between the head and the mattress so the cervical spine is in line with the spine. A pillow of the wrong size can cause and/or aggravate previous neck and shoulder pain (JOACA, 2011).
Britnell, S., Cole, J., Isherwood, L., Sran, M., Britnell, N., Burfi, S. et al. (2005). Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. Postural Health in Women: The Role of Physiotherapy, 150, 493-500 .
Fortin, C., Feldman, D., Cheriet, F., and Labelle, H. (2011). Disability and Rehabiliation. Clinical Methods for Quanitifying Body Segment Posture: A Literature Review, 33(5), 367-383.
Proper Sleep Ergonomics. (2011). Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, 48(4), 1-2.