By Quozette Valera, DPT
It's safe to say that having "good" posture is better for your body, but what exactly does that entail? You probably even heard your mother's voice nagging you to "sit up straight!" when you read the title of this blog, but is it really that simple? And if it is, why does it seem so strenuous?
First, let's consider what makes "bad" posture so common:
- It's effortless. Slumped or slouched posture requires no stabilization from our muscles. Our joints simply rest on each other while our muscles take a nap as we remain deeply engaged in reruns of Breaking Bad.
- It's comfortable. At least temporarily... until we suddenly have to get up to find the remote once the "Are you still there?" prompt comes up on Netflix.
- It requires the least amount of thought. Our bodies are smart, and they tend to do whatever is most convenient for them without really considering the long-term consequences (kind of like Walter White).
Why should we try to improve our posture? Bad posture essentially places excessive strain on our joints, ligaments, and tendons. Over time, our musculoskeletal system adapts and becomes accustomed to these slumped positions, and without engaging the proper postural muscles to hold ourselves up we can develop increased stiffness and decreased flexibility which ultimately leads to dysfunction.
So, how can we obtain better posture? First, let's clarify that "perfect" posture doesn't exist. A common mistake when attempting better posture is over-correcting (arching the back, sticking out the chest) and forcing your body from one extreme to the other. This can actually over-work your muscles and be very fatiguing and uncomfortable. Instead of trying be perfectly upright, focus on sitting and standing in a more neutral position. Here are some basic tips:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and a soft bend in the knees (never locked!)
- Gently squeeze your glutes to tuck your pelvis underneath you (For example, if you're looking in the mirror at a side-view, your hips should be right under your torso.)
- Slightly pinch your shoulder blades together to elevate the breast bone.
- Take strain of the back of the neck and shoulders by tucking the chin in (as if you are trying to stretch the base of your skull)
- When sitting at a work desk, make sure you have appropriate foot support (knees bent at 90 degrees and hips slightly flexed) and have your monitors and screens elevated to eye-level. Keep your elbows relaxed and supported with wrists in a neutral position.
Ultimately, whether sitting or standing, the worst posture is the one you are in for longer than 30 minutes (especially when working at a desk). If you allow your body to settle in one position for a prolonged amount of time, getting out of that position will be difficult and you may feel stiff and sore by the time you are ready to move. The best solution is to take periodic stretch breaks and keep moving! Movement helps get fluid in your joints and blood-flow to your tissues which can help prevent those episodes of achiness toward the end of a long workday (or Netflix mega marathon, your choice). Remember, forget about normal and focus on neutral!
Helpful visual aids: http://www.wikihow.com/Sit