Welcome to Ascend Physical Therapy & Wellness guide on the importance of posture.
Most likely everyone remembers somebody telling them when they were younger to ‘sit up straight!’ or ‘stop slouching!’ What is the big deal with slouching when it feels comfortable and is easy to do? And if you aren’t suppose to slouch, what is the optimal position to sit or stand in?
This article will discuss proper posturing and provide useful tips for you to avoid injury from poor positioning in sitting, standing and lying.Posture, by definition, is the position in which our bodies are held when we sit, stand or lie down. Proper or good posturing means that we use the most efficient amount of muscle energy to keep our joints aligned against the downward pull of gravity. The least amount of strain is placed on our body when we are in a good posture. If our joints are not properly aligned in good posture, the force of gravity causes excess stress on parts of your joints as well as the ligaments that support them. Over the years, excess or imbalanced stress on a joint can lead to early stages of osteoarthritis. Your muscles have to use increased force and energy to work against the excess load, which causes the muscles and associated tendons to also become stressed. Other tissues such as fascia, nerves, blood vessels, and even your internal organs can also be affected by the added stress of poor posturing. Even the ability to breathe freely, deeply and maximally expand your lungs is affected by the position of your posture.Everyone has ‘postural’ muscles that work (usually without you even knowing it!) to keep you upright against gravity. These muscles are constantly firing at low levels to keep you in position while standing or sitting. Examples of these muscles include deep muscles in the front of your neck, deep muscles in your back and abdominal area, and the deep calf muscle called the soleus.
TRIAL: Stand still with your feet hip width apart. Even though you are virtually still, if you pay close attention, you will feel a mild sway of your body. You sway, but you don’t fall over. This is due to the way your postural muscles are hard at work to keep you upright! If you now drop your head right down towards your chest, you will experience the effects of gravity on your neck. You will feel the pull at the back of your neck and may even feel your muscles working harder to keep you from falling forward or from swaying more. This is an exaggerated position of poor posturing for your neck, but it demonstrates the increased stress you can feel on your joints and the increased work your muscles have to endure during a period of poor posturing.
So what exactly is good posturing?
In order to correct your posture you must first be aware of your body and its current posture. Try each of the positions below first by standing, sitting or lying in your normal position and pay attention to the stresses, strains and comfortable areas you feel in your body. Then try each position taking the posture pointers below into consideration and note any changes you feel. The most important posture points to remember when standing, sitting and lying are listed below, however, this list is neither exclusive nor tailored to suit your individual posture. For more specific posture pointers for your own body and everyday needs, you should consult your Physical Therapist at Ascend Physical Therapy & Wellness for a posture assessment.
Standing is the hardest position to maintain a good posturing position in for a prolonged period simply because the entire body is unsupported and every joint and muscle has to work against gravity. Be mindful of the following points when trying to maintain good standing posture at any time but particularly if you need to stand for a prolonged period:
Sitting can be an easier position to maintain for a long period of time, but sitting can also cause a lot of stress to your body. Be mindful of the following points when trying to maintain good sitting posture at any time but particularly if you need to sit for a prolonged period:
If you are an office worker or are required to sit for prolonged periods for your job then it is worthy to discuss your specific desk and sitting ergonomics with your Physical Therapist. Whenever possible it is most beneficial to get advice while sitting at your actual workstation. Specific advice from your Physical Therapist when purchasing a new office or work chair should also be sought.
Lying tends to be a very comfortable position for most people however lying in a poor position particularly for a long period can aggravate an existing injury or create a new injury. Be mindful of the following points when trying to maintain a good lying posture at any time but particularly when lying for a prolonged period such as during sleep or if bed rest is required to recover from an injury:
Any posture, whether good or bad, for a prolonged period of time, is actually tough on the body. Although as mentioned above there are certainly better posture positions that put less stress on your body, even remaining in these ‘good’ positions for too long puts strain on the body. For example, the soldier standing at proper attention can create injuries for themselves when they are required to do it for hours on end! Remember that even small adjustments in your position can change the activation of muscles and positively alter the stresses on your joints and other tissues. Thus although it is wise to maintain ‘proper’ posturing as often as possible, be sure to also remember that the body thrives on movement. Get up and out of a sustained posture position whenever possible!
It is a common myth that using supports such as chairs, braces, special shoes or footrests is ‘cheating’ and not making your muscles work to support your body. This is definitely a myth! Even with a support your muscles must continue to work. It is often VERY useful to use specific supports to help sustain your posture. Anything that helps to keep your body in good alignment helps to teach your body what the best posturing position is and teaches the muscles exactly which forces are required. This is particularly true if you need to maintain one specific posturing such as standing or sitting for a prolonged period or if you are dealing with an injury. Braces and supports in these situations either allow your muscles to manage these positions for longer periods overall or allow them to manage these positions for longer periods without pain. Your Physical Therapist can advise you if there are any braces, supports, special chairs or shoes that would be good for your individual posture needs.
Maintaining a good position in standing, sitting and lying is something we should all strive to do whenever possible in order to decrease the overall stress on our bodies. Although it is impossible to maintain these perfect positions all of the time, remember that ‘it all counts’ when dealing with stress on the body, so try to put yourself in a good posture as often as possible. Apart from all the facts about good posture being better for your body, another truth is that proper posturing just simply makes you look better, look healthier and look (and hopefully feel) happier so….. stop slouching!Ascend Physical Therapy & Wellness provides services for Physical Therapy in Vienna and Annandale, VA.