Why is it so important?
How many times were you told to “put your shoulders back” or “stand up straight” as a child? How important is it to have good posture? And what is good posture?
Posture is the position we hold our body when we are sitting, standing and lying down. Everybody is built differently. What is considered “good posture” for an individual may not look the same as for someone else. Ideally, good posture involves a neutral spine. This is where all the spinal curves are in their mid-position. This is the position where the loads are most evenly distributed throughout the spine and where the core muscles are in the best position to activate.
The spinal column has four curves. There Cervical spine (neck) curves in, this curve is called a lordosis, the Thoracic spine (midback) curves out in a kyphosis, the Lumbar spine (lower back) curves in (lordosis) and the sacrum and coccyx have another kyphotic curve. Depending on how we hold ourselves these curves can become exaggerated or flattened. This can lead to forces being unevenly transferred through the structures of the spine.
If load is being unevenly distributed through the joints, it can lead to wearing down of certain parts of those joints. Similarly, it can also lead to some muscles being held in a more “shortened” position and the opposing muscles in a more “lengthened” position. This can lead to muscle weakening, tension and pain.
Often, when people try to stand up straight they over-correct their posture. This can also lead to pain and dysfunction in the joints and muscles. When people do try to correct their posture they find the position feels strange and hard to maintain. This is because the body is used to being in its “normal/resting” position and the muscles have tightened and lengthened in this position and the postural/core muscles have weakened.
Posture can be influenced by a multitude of factors. The activities that we spend the majority of our time doing are probably the biggest influences.For example, desk workers tend to get tight hip flexors, pectoral muscles and anterior neck muscles, and the scapular postural muscles, spine extensors, gluts and core muscles will become lengthened and weak due to their sitting position. There has been a lot of research into occupational health and how to reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. In a lot of these studies ergonomics and workstation set-up plays a large role. It has been found that there was a significant reduction in self-reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders after receiving a workplace change and ergonomic training (Robertson & O’Neill, 2003). The tasks we spend most of our day completing can greatly influence our posture. To reduce the risk of injury making sure our posture is as close to neutral is superlative to make sure we are not wearing down our joints and not causing imbalances on our muscle systems.
Staying in one position too long, no matter what posture we are in can also be detrimental to our health. It is important that we move. It is not ideal to be spending long periods of time in any one position. We recommend that if you have a role that involves sitting for long periods that you get up and move around at least every 20-30minutes. There is a multitude of evidence emerging describing the serious health risks associated with prolonged sitting and sedentary behaviours. It has been found prolonged sitting is even associated with several cardiovascular risk factors (Dunstan, et al. 2011).
To stand or sit in the correct posture we want you to be using your core muscle system. However, this is impossible if you aren’t positioned right or if they are weak due to inactivity. These muscles are designed to work subconsciously for long periods, at a low level. This will result in minimal loading of the joints and less chance of fatigue for the muscles. When these muscles aren’t working properly, due to pain or positioning, the bigger, more superficial muscle groups may try to take over and consequently add more load to the joints, fatigue and become tight and sore.
At Q Pilates our team of Physiotherapists perform thorough postural assessments. If you have pain or an injury it is important to make sure that you are not overloading the area during your daily activities. We can make sure you are positioning your posture correctly and not overloading any of the joints. This will help injury recovery and prevent recurrence. We can also guide you through an exercise program to help strengthen the muscles that are responsible for holding you in a good posture.
Good posture is an integral part of injury prevention and recovery. It relies on the ability of the core muscles. Any good posture should not be held in one position for too long though, it is imperative to move!
Tips for Perfect Posture in Sitting:
- Sit on the front of the seat and then shuffle your bottom back as if spreading the bottom bones towards the back of the seat until you can’t wiggle any further, feel how you are now sitting forward on your sit bones instead of slumping in the pelvis onto the tailbone?
- Let your backrest support your lumbar spine, you don’t need to lean forward or “sit up straight” too much (adjust your lumbar support as required)
- Feet should be planted on the floor, if not, grab a footrest.
- Shoulders are tilted slightly back, never strain. And relaxed from the ears.
- Imagine there is a piece of string drawing the crown of the head up and grow tall.
Tips for Perfect Posture in Standing:
- Shift your weight back over your heels (without sticking the bottom out like a duck)
- Make sure your knees aren’t in a locked position. Aim for straight but soft, not bent.
- Draw your hips in line with your ankles.
- Pull up tall through the crown of the head as if you’ve got a balloon floating above you
- Relax the shoulders down away from the ears
- Make sure you are in a “neutral” pelvis position by tucking your tail under all the way, then sticking it out all the way and find a mid-point between these two extremes.
- Check that your rib cage isn’t poking out the front, if so, gently relax it down towards the belly button
Dunstan, D. W., Thorp, A. A. & Healy, G. N. Prolonged Sitting: Is it a Distinct Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factor? Current Opinion in Cardiology. 2011; 26 (5): 412-9.
Robertson, M. M. & O’Neill, M. J. Reducing Musculoskeletal Discomfort: Effects of an Office Ergonomics Workplace and Training Intervention. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics. 2003: 9 (4) 491-502.