Having good posture is about much more than just looking good. Good posture conveys many benefits.
An enormous amount could be written about the understanding of posture, posture assessment and posture correction. The human body is a complex construction of interconnections and multiplanar tensions. The way in which all these connections and tensions are balanced – or imbalanced – constitutes posture. As you can imagine, it’s a complex topic. What I write here is about as concise an account as I could come up with. It just scratches the surface of this extensive topic.
What do we mean by good posture? Good posture is when your skeleton is aligned in the way it was designed: your spine has the right curves and your limbs are aligned correctly. When your posture deteriorates it is often because some muscles become tight and others become weak. When this happens, your limbs become misaligned and your spine can develop incorrect curvatures. The knock-on effect can be dysfunction, pain, stiffness, inflammation and so on.
The most common postural problems come from prolonged sitting. This will give rise to similar issues in most people
- Tight hips and weak glutes, leading to a forward-tilted pelvis and often concomitant lower back pain
- Exaggerated spinal curvature in the lumbar region (lumbar lordosis), thoracic region (kyphosis) or neck (cervical lordosis). Often someone will present with exaggerated curvature in all 3 spinal regions. Thoracic kyphosis, in particular, will give rise to that familiar hunched overlook that people associate with old age.
To accompany this introduction there is a short video. You may need to turn up your volume.
Here are three important implications of posture:
- Looking good, confidence
Have you ever noticed that people who lack confidence are more likely to make themselves small by hunching over and bowing their heads? They look like they lack confidence. The opposite is also true. Those who stand tall, upright and proud look more confident. In fact, just the act of straightening up, keeping your chest high and your head looking forward can give you a little confidence boost.
People with good posture generally look attractive, look well. Standing tall and upright conveys a sense of someone who is self-assured and healthy.
If you are hunched over you will be closing your airways and restricting the ability of your rib cage and your diaphragm to expand and contract. You will find it difficult to get a proper lung full of air. You can find your breathing to be laboured.
There are numerous ways in which poor posture can lead to pain. Pain in the knees, hips and lower back are very common and usually posture related. What is generally happening is that some muscles are tight and pulling joints out of position. At the same time, other muscles are weak and movements end up being performed by the wrong muscles. Movement becomes dysfunctional, joints grind, muscles designed as assistors to the main muscles become overworked and develop pain, and this has a knock-on effect elsewhere in the kinetic chain. The longer you continue with these dysfunctions, the more difficult it becomes to reverse them and the more likely you are to end up with permanent pain, worn joints and a posture that is fixed in an incorrect position.
The most common problems are associate with sitting. If you have tight hips you will not be able to extend your hip properly when walking and running. Your stride will be cut short and you may experience pain. If you experience this when walking then it will be worse when running and could lead to injury.
Sitting often leads to shoulders being rolled forward and can compromise movement patterns, create tension and generate pain.
So what can you do about it?
In reality everyone’s postural issues are individual to them and a proper assessment and correction strategy would be advised.
A proper strategy would involve a personalised programme of strengthening, stretching, foam rolling, mobilisation and so on. It would be bespoke and last for several months or, more likely, the corrective strategies would need to be a lifelong lifestyle habit.
Now that said, the problems associated with sitting are common enough that most people would benefit from some generalised improvement work designed to address these issues.
To that end, there are three areas that are most often weak in people with postural issues
- Core, mainly abdominal muscles
- Muscles of the upper back that retract, depress and rotate the shoulder blades.
In parts 2, 3 and 4 of this posture series, we look at a simple exercise for each of these areas. Practise these every day, or perhaps twice a day, and you will find that your posture gradually improves. It may not be perfect without a more specific and focused programme, but it will at least improve, help reinforce better movement patterns and help to alleviate pain. There will be a short video for each of these exercises.