Posture Basics You Need to Know

Good posture is a sign of physical and emotional health. But ask nearly anyone with back pain if they have good posture, the answer more often than not is no.

So, if most people do not know what good posture is, how can they expect to maintain it? Education about posture is usually limited to one sentence, “sit up straight.” But there is much more that the posturally challenged need to know before they attempt to combat a slouch. Most importantly, attempting to correct posture without basic guidelines can result in just as much pain and dysfunction as the “bad posture” itself. Fortunately there is hope with a little bit of knowledge and application of the posture basics below.

Know What Proper Posture Is and Isn’t

Good posture isn’t simply standing up straight and keeping your shoulders back. Healthy posture maintains the proper alignment of structures so that optimal biomechanical function is achieved. This limits physical stress and prevents breakdown of the body. The feet and the abdominal musculature play vital roles in posture maintenance, as they are the foundation and the core strength respectively. A flat foot or a weak transverse abdominis muscle will cause postural distortions to varying degrees which predisposes the body to pain and injury.

The Plumb Line

There are certain points of the body that should align themselves vertically so that the body bears its weight and moves through space efficiently. Imagine a perfectly straight line passing through the body from the head to the floor. This line is called a plumb line and it is used to visualize these “posture points” and to identify structural imbalances three dimensionally.

Posture Points

Posture points are best identified in the profile or side view. Starting at the feet, these points pass slightly in front of the bony part of the ankle, the center of the knee, the front of the sacrum, the lumbar vertebra, the bony part of the shoulder and up through the opening of the ear. These points ideally should all fall along the plumb line. If the neck or a shoulder drifts in front of the line, there is an imbalance in the opposing musculature from front to back and the posture is disrupted.

From a posterior view the spine should be in the midline and align itself with the middle of the base of the skull. The shoulders and nape of the neck, as well as the earlobes should be horizontally symmetrical. In this position, asymmetries such as an elevated shoulder and a lowered earlobe signifying a head tilt on the same side can be visualized.

From the anterior or front view, the plumb line passes along the midline of the breastbone and bisects the area between the eyebrows. A forward shoulder, a high or low patella, or unleveling of the horizontal alignment of the eyes can be identified in this position.

Posture Basics

Good posture first requires a level foundation. Fallen arches, flat feet and damaged achilles tendons must be attended to appropriately to prevent the legs from functioning as if they are two different lengths. Orthotics or professionally fitted shoe inserts are a good way obtain this balance.

Once the foundation is leveled, the core muscles must be strengthened and retrained. The abdominal muscles, particularly the transverse abdominis, must maintain its tension in order to support the posture. When this muscle is functioning properly, the shoulders, neck and head cannot drift forward and will naturally align themselves closer to the plumb line. For this reason, attempting to correct posture by pulling back the shoulders is fatiguing and ineffective, and creates exactly the physical stress that you are trying to avoid with postural correction.

To strengthen the transverse abdominis muscle, gently pull your belly button back approximately one centimeter toward the spine without using your breath to assist you. The pelvis will shift slightly forward and the abdomen should elongate. Maintain this slight tension when walking, sitting and standing. Once these muscles are re-educated, your body will more naturally adapt to the new, corrected position with much less thought and effort.

Specific postural distortions can be addressed and fine tuned once the above basics of posture are mastered. In addition, structural causes of postural distortion such as an anatomically short leg, osteoporosis or scoliosis can be identified with simple posture examinations by your health care professional.

Be Aware

The most important tool in postural health is awareness. Become familiar with your own postural patterns and weaknesses so that you can develop the skills to manage them. Health and well-being can be directly enhanced by knowing and applying the basics of good posture and frequent postural checkups should be part of the healthcare regimen for you and your family.

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