Stand up straight!
by Kristina Holland, PTA
It’s easy to recognize when someone is standing or sitting with good posture versus bad. So why are we so resistant to suggestions to improve our poor posture? Because there is a formidable foe to good posture — gravity.
Good posture takes self-awareness and effort to maintain correct alignment, whereas poor posture is giving in to the constant pull of gravity. With correct posture, our body is balanced front to back in relation to the pull of gravity. But since many of our daily activities require us to look down or reach forward and down in front of us, gravity takes its toll over time. The result can be muscle adaptation and fatigue, joint degeneration and pain.
The biggest posture mistake that people make is not recognizing when their posture is faulty, even if there’s no pain. One way to assess your posture is to ask a friend or family member to observe you from the side when you’re standing and sitting. In addition, approximate the daily activities you do for prolonged periods of time and have them observe you in these postures as well.
When standing, ask your observer to visualize an imaginary plumb line down your side. Starting from the head, it should go through the ear lobe, through the middle of the shoulder joint, through the hip bone, slightly behind the knee cap and finally slightly in front of the ankle bone. Any deviations from this can cause stress to joints and force you to work much harder fighting gravity.
While sitting, you should maintain the 3 curves in your spine often described as a letter “s,” rather than slumping into a letter “c.” These three curves disperse force throughout our back, so they are important to reducing stress to the intervertebral discs. Your sitting surface should allow your feet to rest flat on the ground, and your knees should be bent to 90 degrees and your hips at about 90 degrees or a little less. You can also place a small towel roll or pillow in the lumbar area to passively hold your posture.
There are lots of exercises that you can do to improve posture. Here are three that I’d recommend.
- Chin tucks
Sit with “good” posture as described above and think of a turtle pulling its head into it shell. Look straight ahead and pull your chin straight back. If your neck is stiff, you can assist by pressing your chin back with two fingertips. Your chin should not tip up and you should not be looking at the ceiling if you are doing this correctly. Hold 5 seconds and repeat 5 times. Do this 3-4 times a day, especially if you work at a computer for hours.
- Shoulder blade pinches
Sit or stand with good posture and with your arms relaxed at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades in back so they move closer to your midline; think of trying to assume a soldier’s military pose. Hold 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Prone back extensions
Prone means lying on your stomach, so you can do this on a bed, but you might need a pillow under your abdomen to avoid having your back overarch. Put a towel roll under your forehead so your neck is straight and you are looking down at the bed or floor. Your arms are by your sides. Lift your chest off the bed or floor and hold 2-3 seconds, lowering slowly and keeping your neck in alignment. Repeat 10 times.
Kristina Holland, PTA, has been a physical therapist assistant for 5 years at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee.
For further reading:
Deardorff, Julie. Improve posture with this exercise. Chicago Tribune, September 13, 2011.
Carter, Jessie. Are you a Donald Duck or a Pink Panther? TotalGym.com, June 8, 2011.
“Maintain good posture,” Trismus. All About Dental Health, May 2011.
Millar, A. Lynn. “Posture,” Action plan for arthritis. 2003.