Your Mother Was Right - Posture is Important!
"Sit up straight!"
"Don't slouch!" I'm sure we've all heard those admonishing words
more than once from our mother when we were growing up. And most of us
begrudgingly complied with her command having no concept of the anatomical
and biomechanical rationale behind her persistent prodding. In fact she
probably wasn't aware of all the implications of poor posture herself!
But somehow, some way your mother always seemed to know best.
What is good posture anyway and why is it so important?
Basically posture refers to the body's alignment and positioning with respect
to the ever-present force of gravity. Whether we are standing, sitting or
lying down gravity exerts a force on our joints, ligaments and muscles.
Good posture entails distributing the force of gravity through our body
so no one structure is overstressed.
An architect has to take these
same laws of gravity and weight distribution into account when he or she
designs a building. And like a building with a poor foundation a body
with poor posture is less resistant to the strains and stresses we experience
over the months, years and decades of life.
When doctors or therapists
look at someone's posture they generally first look at the alignment of
the weight bearing joints in standing. Ideally from a back view the spine
should have no lateral curvature and the legs should be symmetrical without
undue angulation at the knees or ankles. From a side view the spine should
form a smooth S-shaped curve, bisected by an imaginary plumb line dropped
from the apex of the head through the center of gravity of the body. This
same plumb line should pass through the tip of the shoulder, the center
of the hip joint and ankle joint and slightly behind the knee joint. With
this ideal alignment the body weight is balanced over the spine and lower
extremity joints requiring minimum muscular effort. This alignment also
evenly distributes pressure on the intervertebral discs and avoids excessive
stress on the ligaments.
The sitting position
is where most of us get into trouble with poor postural habits. This is
especially true when driving or using a computer. As we focus on the activity
in front of us we tend to protrude the head and neck forward. Because
the body follows the head, the thoracic and lumbar spine tends to round
forward as well. When this occurs, the weight of the head and upper body
is no longer balanced over the spinal column but instead must be supported
by increased muscular energy and placing spinal ligaments on stretch.
Over time this leads to fatigue and eventually even pain in the neck and
upper back. Shoulders rounded forward which occurs for example when your
car seat is too far away from the steering wheel further contributes to
this pattern of imbalance. Ideally then, the S-shaped curvature of the
spine that is characteristic of good standing posture should be maintained
in sitting as well. This is best accomplished by sitting all the way back
in a straight-backed chair and placing a folded towel or small pillow
in the arch of the low back. Fortunately, many new office chairs and car
seats come with built-in lumbar supports and other adjustable features.
Sitting and standing
with proper postural alignment will allow one to work more efficiently
with less fatigue and strain on your body's ligaments and muscles. Being
aware of good posture is the first step to breaking old poor postural
habits and reducing stress and strain on your spine. By putting this knowledge
into practice one can prevent the structural anatomical changes that can
develop if poor posture is left uncorrected for many years. So to repeat
an old adage you may also have heard from your mother: "An ounce
of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Thanks Mom!
P.S. In this discussion
we've introduced you to some basic concepts of "static" posture
like sitting and standing. In a future installment we'll talk about "posture
in motion", commonly known as body mechanics. Body mechanics refers
to how we position our body to perform movement activities like pushing,
lifting or carrying. And just like good static posture, "good"
body mechanics will allow one to work and play more efficiently and with
less stress on any one body part.
Also we encourage
you to check out upcoming articles on other topics in orthopedic and sports
rehabilitation. For example, we'll talk about what to do immediately after
a joint sprain, and later on, some tips on prevention of carpal tunnel
syndrome. Until then, all of us at AASTHA wish you good health and healthy
living. Thanks for visiting!