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1st Dec

2010

What is Good Posture?

Not too many people have gone through life without having been told to improve their posture during certain activities. Perhaps this is especially true during the adolescence years. But what is good posture, and why does it matter?

To most people, good posture is a straight body position where we sit or stand tall, with shoulders back and the head centered on top of them. An “ideal” standing posture can even be found in medical and physical therapy text books, with a plumb line falling from the ears through our shoulders and hips, down to the center of our feet. But is this realistic, or even something to strive for?

The problem with cookbook approaches is that they do not take into consideration the numerous anatomical and functional variations in people, which fall within normal limits. For people, who do not fit the “plumb line profile”, to try to assume such a posture would mean to create excessive compressive or tension strain on certain joint and soft tissue structures, and to excessively contract muscles. This could easily lead to pain and tissue irritation, if kept for a long period.

An ideal static posture for each person can be thought of as the body position where there is the least potential for tissue strain or irritation, and where muscles can maintain such a balanced resting position with the least amount of energy spent.

But we also need to have good posture with motion and activity, which becomes more complicated. We refer to this as body mechanics, or biomechanics if we want to look at specific joints or body parts. Now it becomes important that there is good coordination between deep local stabilizing muscles and more superficial global muscles, to allow for a normal movement pattern.

A preferred posture also changes with painful musculoskeletal conditions and with age. As an example, a person with a pinched nerve in the neck may need to keep the head more forward to open up the space for the nerves, until such nerve pressure has lessened. Likewise, an older individual with low back stenosis, a condition where wear and tear changes have narrowed the passages for the spinal nerves, typically needs to be more forward bent than the younger person, to lessen the nerve pressure. For these people to force their necks or backs backwards would result in more pain and nerve irritation.

However, many people deviate from their own best posture, especially with prolonged sitting, e.g. at a computer. This often leads to increased tissue strain, increased muscle tension, and even chronic loss of soft tissue and joint mobility, and in turn abnormal movement patterns and pain. Manual physical therapy may now be required, to restore more normal mobility and muscle action.

I wish you a good continuation of the holiday season, and please share this information with those who could benefit from it.

Best wishes,

Gunnar

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