Proper posture is at the heart of good health. Posture affects your overall health and is something everyone can take steps to improve. Proper posture offers pain relief with little effort.
If you’re short and wish you were tall, there’s no changing that. But if you want to spare your body stress and improve your health through proper posture, that is within your control.
Proper alignment, posture, biomechanics (alignment and leverage as you move), and ergonomics (workspace design) are critical to avoid pain or relieve your pain and prevent injury.
Some people think that poor posture is genetically hereditary. Postural awareness and habits are influenced by exposure. Children often mimic parental example. You can improve your posture, strengthen spinal tissues, and prevent problems with correction and consistency.
Poor posture leads to many ailments. One of which is poor posture. Literature over the last thirty years says that eight out of ten people suffer back pain. That is not surprising when you consider the poor posture when people sit, drive, work on the computer, lean over hand-held devices, or watch TV.
Correcting your postural foundation is the first step to prevent and stop back pain. Strengthening your back and core is also important.
Excellent posture establishes your solid, durable physical foundation. Each person needs postural correction no matter your gender, your weight, your fitness level, your age, your height, body composition, or your build. It makes no sense to correct structural problems if your alignment is faulty—you trade one trouble for another.
I’m too old for “do-overs.” Let’s do it right the first time and avoid a revolving door of cascading problems.
Proper postural alignment strengthens your spine (your core) and prevents intervertebral disc damage, nerve compression, and compression fractures. Prevent pain and keep your strength and function with a strong foundation of excellent posture.
Proper posture centers joint movement, balancing the length and strength of muscles and soft tissues around the joints. This allows effective tracking (bone-on-bone alignment) through the movement and prevents irritation and degenerative changes.
Wolff’s law states that bones will adapt to the forces placed upon them. Proper alignment and posture strengthen bones, joints, and supportive tissues.
As the illustration shows, your ear should be over the point of your shoulder, shoulder over hip joint, hip joint over the knee, with the line continuing a bit forward of the ankle joint.
Proper Posture ACTIVITY:
Observe alignment. Stand in front of a mirror, look at your reflection when you pass by windows, or lie on the floor under a beam or a line on the ceiling. If you can get up and down safely from the floor, this is ideal as you get better feedback for your postural position on the floor than if you lie on sofas or beds. Soft surfaces feed into your faults while the firm floor shows you where your tissues are “tight” or “lax.”
Prolonged poor postural alignment results in bone and joint deterioration, arthritis, or fractures. Equestrians and cowboys develop bowed legs because knee and ankle joints conform to the prolonged stress from curving around the body of a horse (Wolff’s Law). Proper posture aligns your vertebrae and keeps your center of gravity over your base of support, whether that is your pelvis while sitting or your feet while standing.
Stand tall, with your ear lobes aligned over the point of your shoulders. (If this is hard for you, or you feel a strong pull at the base of your skull and into your neck when you attempt this alignment, you will benefit from postural correction exercises. Line up your relaxed shoulders with your hip joints.
It takes about three weeks to three months to become comfortable with new, corrected postural habits. The time required to make proper posture more comfortable than poor posture depends on how mild or severe your initial problems are and how consistent you are in practicing your correction.
Why is it important to practice and build good postural habits?
Poor posture leads to:
- neck pain,
- shoulder issues,
- back pain,
- disc degeneration,
- dental malalignment
- and other aliments.
Sitting and standing erect allows room for the best:
- breathing volume (vital capacity),
- digestion, and
- internal organ function.
Proper posture promotes:
- optimal skeletal growth and bone strength (calcification)
- smooth joint function, preventing arthritic changes
- soft tissue and muscle length /strength balance (core strength)
- and prevents structural and mechanical pain
How does this work together?
Balanced tissue length and strength around each joint means the joint remains centralized—aligned—through the full range of motion.
Spinal mal-alignment (poor posture) increases joint wear and tear, disc stress, nerve compression, and results in spinal degeneration and arthritis. Poor spinal posture also causes wear and tear in related joints, like shoulder, jaw, and hip joints.
When some muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues are too tight, too powerful, too loose, weak, or out of balance, the joint becomes off-center.
Tissue length and strength imbalance around the knee cap causes chondromalacia (painful or “crunchy,” noisy knee cap function) and possible patellar (knee cap) dislocation. Help your knees out with proper posture.
With a strong core (muscles and tissues close to the spine in proper balance), your arms and legs work most effectively. Picture a large construction crane, backhoe, or excavator with a long, sturdy working arm to lift, dig, or reposition heavy objects. How effective would it be without a substantial anchor or counterweight foundation on which to move? That working arm would be useless, unable to function, and would fall to the ground! Too many human bodies consist of powerful arms and legs connected by “mush.” Poor posture decreases core strength and stability. Sedentary lifestyles contribute to weak muscles. Both of those tendencies contribute to functional limitations and nerve, joint, and muscle pain.
What can you do?
Check Your Posture
Build up your trunk and core strength with consistency and correction. Every time you see red: Stand tall. Imagine someone pulling you up through the top and back of your head at the crown.
Lengthen your spine by a little “puppet practice”. Imagine a string out the top of your head is lifting your posture straight up.
- Pull your chin backward until you are able to align your ear lobe over the point of your shoulder. Don’t tip your head forward. Rather, gradually pull your chin straight back toward your neck until you are able to maintain your ear position over the point of your shoulder. The more difficult this is to do, the more you need this exercise. You will feel tightness and pull in the muscles and tissues at the base of your skull and back of your neck. Muscles closest to your spine and surrounding tissues need to be balanced in length and strength around your neck, shoulder joints, and down your spine to your pelvis. Postural correction should not be painful. Instead, you will feel a pull at the base of your skull and into your neck and your neck will feel compressed. You may feel muscle work in your shoulder girdle or low back. Allow 3-12 weeks of consistently tucking your chin (pulling your chin backward, not down) for the muscles to stretch. Have a humble chin and send your heart to heaven—you don’t want to have a proud (jutting) chin and heart to hell (slouched over toward the ground).
- Pull your shoulders down and back, like a ballet dancer. Open your chest and send your heart to heaven. Slouching when you sit or stand allows your head to fall forward and your chin to jut out. That position contributes to headaches as well as neck and shoulder pain. As your shoulders slump forward and your chest drops, your vital capacity—your lung expansion and breathing ability—decreases and your digestive system and internal organs compress. Keep a humble chin and send your heart to heaven. It takes time for the muscles and other soft tissues to stretch and balance, so be patient and consistent!
Breathe: In through your nose, out through your mouth
4. Suck your belly button toward your spine to support your back. Imagine a water balloon. If you squeeze the middle, what happens to the water? It moves vertically. Your spine provides rigid support in the back, but you need compressive force in your abdomen to give vertical support to the spine. Your abdominal muscles need to work every minute you are upright. Most people think that doing abdominal crunches (exercising abdominal muscles in the shortest position) will provide all-day endurance and build strength in your erect, standing posture (longest muscle position). Not so. The way you train is how your muscles function. Your core and abdominal muscles are low power, endurance muscles, needing to perform 12 to 18 hours a day. The best training is excellent postural alignment, gentle and constant abdominal tension in erect position, and proper biomechanics throughout your day.
Finally, remember to breathe! Everyone forgets to breathe when concentrating or exerting effort. Breathe evenly and slowly, in through your nose, out through your mouth.
Proper Posture ACTIVITY 2
If you can get up and down safely from the floor, practice proper posture on your back on the floor with a rolled towel under your waist. This orientation allows you to feel excellent alignment without fighting gravity and working harder. Get into your best position and hold it as you count to 30 slowly. Rest briefly and repeat the exercise. It takes 20-30 seconds for changes to occur in soft tissue length and balance. Repeat the exercise 3 times, 2-3 times per day.
To remember to practice these techniques, put red dots up as a reminder. Stick red dots on computers, bathroom mirrors, refrigerators, in the car, and any place you frequently see them through the day. When you see a red dot or the color red, check your posture and adjust if necessary. Train your humble chin and heart to heaven.
Discover your sitting posture by checking your reflection, asking people around you, and practice “stacking your blocks”. This video helps show you how.
Let’s practice. Sit on a chair and rock forward and back and side-to-side on your “sit bones” (ischial tuberosity) until you feel both of the bones in your bottom evenly share your weight. Just as you did while standing, sit tall, with your ear lobes aligned over the point of your shoulders. Line up your relaxed shoulders with your hip joints. Close your eyes. How does your sitting balance feel?
Are you working hard to hold yourself forward, backward, or are you resting in good alignment? As you curl your bottom under you and then stick it out behind you, rocking over your pelvis forward and back with your eyes closed, you begin to feel where you have to work the least–where you are most aligned. By correcting your alignment (your posture) and practicing “stacking your blocks” over your pelvis, you use less energy in your daily activities, work, sports, and leisure. Proper posture also strengthens your spine, preventing compression fractures. It takes about three weeks to three months to become comfortable with new, corrected postural habits. The time needed to make proper posture more comfortable than poor posture depends on how consistent you are with your correction and how mild or severe your initial problem.
Be aware of how you:
- Carry your head, Position your chin (humble)
- Align your back, “stack your blocks”
- Roll your shoulders down and back
- Open your chest, send your heart to heaven
- Breathe deeply
How To Create Lasting Change: Ask, don’t force.
“No pain, no gain” needs to be defined. Yes, there will be burning, fatigue, and temporary muscle soreness from strengthening healthy muscles and tissues. However, there is a balance. Too much demand can cause micro tears and decrease your functional and performance ability. The best approach to strengthening or increasing endurance is to ask, not force
Allow time and be consistent. Go to the point where you are just a tiny bit past “the burn” or where you think you can’t go on and stop. Cool down, walk around, rest, and try again later. When you ask, you do not punish. You allow time for your tissues and cardiovascular system to recover and heal. Asking takes you just a bit beyond uncomfortable—where you feel work but not pain.
Your discomfort should resolve within a day or two at the most. If you cannot repeat the same amount of activity after you have rested, you did too much—you forced. Back off a bit and allow your body to regenerate. Ask consistently over time and you will see positive results without regression.
Head and Neck
Observe the head, neck, and shoulder position of other people. How do they habitually sit, stand, use their phones or computers, drive, do paperwork? Check your own position.
Evaluate your position as you stand, sit, and use your electronics. How could you improve? Where do you feel the stretch and the work, the strengthening? Pay attention to those sensations as reminders to continue correcting your posture.
Headaches can result from muscle tension, fatigue, caffeine, stress, smoke or air pollution, bright light, wearing glasses, blood pressure or vascular problems, past trauma, and more causes than we can list here. Headaches can vary in intensity, frequency, and duration from once or twice per year, lasting a few minutes, to migraine headaches occurring daily and functionally paralyzing the sufferer.
A common source of headaches is poor postural alignment and muscle tension. There is now a new diagnosis of “texting neck” caused by prolonged poor head and neck posture while using handheld technology.
- Posture is the foundation for structural health, movement, and function. Correct alignment is possible for every person.
- To break a bad habit, you must replace it with a good one. Though you may not feel any benefit when you start, having clear, written reminders of why you want to change your bad habit or behavior makes all the difference. If you don’t value the new practice more highly than the old one, you won’t change. Studies show it takes about 5,000 repetitions for muscle memory and function to replace a negative habit with a good one.
But the good news is you don’t have to do those corrections all at once. The key is not to slip back into old, bad habits and positions. Think of it like pouring concrete. You set the molds and pour the concrete. The molds support the soft cement until the concrete is set and strong enough to hold its shape. If you remove the molds before the concrete sets, you have a mess to clean up and get to start over.
You may be surprised at how good you feel once you correct your posture. It is powerful. Proper posture offers pain relief with little effort. Start little by little today.
Psalm 3:3—But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.1 John 5:4—For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Colossians 3:23—Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
Bonnie Yost, Physical Therapist