What is Posture?
Posture is your body's position when you’re standing, sitting, or lying down. According to Nina Strang (physical therapist and certified strengthening and conditioning specialist at the University of Michigan) good posture is also known as a neutral spine when the muscles surrounding the spine are balanced and support the body equally. Postural muscles help your body to hold good posture and help to keep you on balance as you walk or move. Proper posture is when your body parts align the way they should when using the right amount of muscle tension to support yourself. A lot of people ask why posture is important; having good posture improves spine health, helps to avoid straining the postural muscles, and is beneficial to overall health and wellbeing.
There are two kinds of posture, static and dynamic. Static posture is the posture you hold yourself in when you’re not moving, i.e., when sleeping, standing, or sitting still. Dynamic posture refers to the body's alignment when you’re in motion, i.e., when walking, stretching, or running. When properly postured, your weight is distributed equally in your body; the shoulders are back and relaxed, the back is straight, and the spine is aligned. Your ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle should be in alignment from the side.
Poor posture can adversely affect physical and mental health. It can lead to weakened bones, nerve damage, lower back pain, reduced confidence, depression, and more. While technological innovations such as the automobile, TV, and computer have made modern life easier and more convenient, these inventions have also had negative impacts on human health. People have become more sedentary as technology has advanced. According the the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.
A survey by Ergotron, a manufacturer of workstations and standing desks, found that the average American sits for approximately 13 hours each day. A meta-analysis study by Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that individuals who sit for more than 11 hours each day have a 40 percent greater chance of death in the next 3 years than individuals who sit for less than 4 hours. Yikes! That's quite worrying, right? Don't be alarmed though, we're here to help you learn how to get better posture. Let's start by finding out what the correct sitting, standing, driving, and lifting positions are:
Correct Sitting Position
Good posture in a seated position means that:
- Your chin should be parallel to the floor.
- Your knees should be pointing forward - bend at a right angle and keep them even with or slightly higher than your hips.
- Your feet should be pointing forward and should rest flat on the floor, with even weight on both hips.
- Your back should be mostly straight - you’ll have three natural curves in your lumbar, thoracic, and cervical areas.
- Your shoulders should be back but relaxed, and your ears should line up over your collarbones.
- Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
At work, adjust your chair height and workstation so that you can sit up close to your work and tilt it up toward you. Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
Don't twist at the waist when sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots. Turn your whole body instead.
Correct Standing Position:
In a standing position, good posture involves:
- Your chin parallel to the floor.
- Your shoulders back and even.
- Your spine in a neutral position, with no excessive back arching.
- Your arms hanging loosely at your sides.
- Your core muscles gently engaged.
- Your knees even and pointing forward.
- Your body weight evenly distributed over both of your feet.
Correct Driving Position
Move the seat close to the steering wheel to support the curve of your back. The seat should be close enough to allow your knees to bend and your feet to reach the pedals.
Correct Lifting Position
In a lifting position, good posture menas that you:
- Make sure you have firm footing before lifting a heavy object
- Stand with a wide stance close to the object you are trying to pick up
- Tighten your stomach muscles and lift the object using your leg muscles
- Straighten your knees in a steady motion
- Don't jerk the object up to your body
- To lower the object, place your feet as you did to lift, tighten your stomach muscles and bend your hips and knees
Benefits of Good Posture
Good posture benefits are numerous, especially for health. Some of the benefits of improving posture are:
- Promotes bone, joint, and muscle health - effective and efficient use of the muscles of your body puts less stress on your joints and bones. This can lead to less overall pain or reduced chances of developing problems like arthritis.
- Improved spine and neck health - practicing proper posture reduces the risk of back and neck pain, decreases strain on the ligaments of your spine, and prevents abnormal spine positioning.
- Reduces headaches - Have you ever had unexplained headaches? Posture may have something to do with that. Practicing poor posture (like slouching, hunched shoulders, and a forward head) can cause tension in your shoulders or on the muscles in the back of the neck leading to tension headaches. This is why it’s crucial to maintain good posture.
- Increases lung capacity - research shows good posture improves your ability to breathe deeply, increasing oxygen intake by as much as 30%. When you sit or stand up straight with your shoulders back, there’s more room to open up your chest for deeper breaths.
- Boosts mood, energy, and confidence - good posture helps you stay focused, energized, and confident throughout the day. This automatically enhances your mood, boosts your self-esteem, and encourages pride in yourself.
- Reduces the wear and tear of joint surfaces (such as the knee) to help prevent the onset of arthritis
- It prevents muscle fatigue and muscular pain because muscles are used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
- Encourages proper alignment and correct positioning of joints and bones
- Decreases the risk of back pain, strain, and sprain injuries
Back Health and Posture
The spine has three curves: one at the neck, one in the middle of the back, and one in the lower back; proper posture helps to maintain these natural curves. Slouching or hunching at a desk can affect the way your spine grows. A slouched posture often refers to a position where the head and pelvis are out of alignment, which will more often than not result in back and joint pain over time. Poor posture is estimated to cause 63% of lower back pain issues, 53% of chronic neck pain, and 38% of persisting shoulder pain. This is why it's crucial to learn how to fix bad posture.
When you have good posture, you are maintaining the natural curve of the spine and the muscles on either side of the spine are balanced, supporting the body equally and symmetrically without any strain or struggle. The spine is the central support of our body; by not maintaining good posture, we strain the muscles, leading to back pain. If you’ve been having a lot of back pain, these tips for breaking bad posture habits and will be sespecially handy for you we’d strongly advise you to practice good posture.
Tips for Breaking Bad Posture Habits
Maintaining good posture is more complex and challenging than it may seem, especially when you've already had lousy posture habits for a long time. Don’t be discouraged, though; here are some key tips for breaking those bad posture habits:
- Be mindful of your posture during the day, especially when sitting at your desk. You can set digital reminders on your phone or laptop every 30 minutes or every hour.
- Make sure you have an ergonomically friendly workstation. Standing desks are essential here as they make posture changes easier and change the prolonged loads your body experiences when you have only one predominant position, like sitting.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can weaken your abdominal muscles, cause problems for your pelvis and spine, and contribute to low back pain. All of these can have a negative effect on your posture.
- Stay active and get regular cardiovascular and resistance exercises to keep your muscles supple, your joints supported, and your bones strong.
- Get help from professionals when you can; physiotherapy and massage therapy are a great combination approach to strengthening weak muscles and lengthening short muscles.
Ways to Improve Posture Backed With Massage Therapy
The research is clear, by making simple lifestyle changes you can improve your posture and overall health. Here are 7 key tips on how to correct posture:
Avoid Sitting for Long Periods
Unfortunately, many professionals and lifestyles require individuals sit often. The good news is low-intensity activities such as standing and walking can help combat the negative effects of extended sitting. One research study by the European Heart Journal found that replacing daily sitting time with 2 hours of standing or walking significantly improves cardio-metabolic health.
Another study published in 2015 by the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center examined the impact of interrupting long sitting periods in children between the ages of 7-11 years old. The researchers measured the metabolic health of two groups: one group that remained seated for 3 hours and another that sat and walked for 3 minutes every 30 minutes. The study concluded participants that walked intermittently displayed better short-term metabolic function.
Lean Slightly Back When Sitting
A certain amount of sitting is unavoidable. So when you do have to spend time sitting at your desk or while driving your car, you want to make sure you have the best posture possible. There's a right way and a wrong way to sit. A study in 2006 by researchers at the Department of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Alberta in Canada found the best position for sitting is leaning back at a 135 degree angle.
The researchers examined patients using a positional MRI machine in three different sitting positions: sitting with a slouching position leaning forward, an upright position with a 90 degree angle between the waist and back, and a relaxed position while leaning back at a 135 degree angle. Measurements were taken of spinal disk height and movement. Spinal movement takes places when weight-bearing strain occurs at the spine, which causes the disk to move out of place.
Surprisingly, the researchers found the disk movement was most pronounced during a 90-degree upright sitting position. It was the least pronounced during the 135-degree posture. By comparison the forward slouch position led to a reduction in spinal disk height, demonstrating wear on the lowest two levels of the spine.
You do not necessarily need to lean back at a complete 135-degree angle. That could be difficult if you are trying to concentrate and get work done. However, don't hesitate to lean slightly back while sitting in order to create an open angle between your base and upper body. It's better for your spine and posture.
Image source: Sitting straight 'bad for backs'
Maintain a Straight Back
80 percent of individuals in the United States experience back pain at some point in their lives. Esther Gokhale, a leading acupuncturist and author of the book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, studied indigenous cultures around the world that have lower rates of back pain. She found the spine of individuals in these indigenous populations looked much different from American spines. Most individuals living in the industrialized world have a S-shaped spine shape that curves at the top and the bottom. In comparison, the individuals in the indigenous communities displayed J-shaped spines.
Image Source: Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain
Image Source: Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain
It’s a myth that good posture naturally develops from being physically active. While there are many health benefits to exercise, you could experience an injury if you aren’t using your body properly. According to Gokhale, the key is to fix the way we stand and sit. She endorses a primal posture, which means sitting or standing with a lengthened back and flat lumbar area.
Wondering how to make your back straight? Gokhale recommends three simple exercises to improve posture and reduce back pain. These include:
- Shoulder rolls
- Lengthening the spine by standing or sitting tall and taking deep breaths.
- Squeeze the glute muscles when walking. This trains your body to have proper posture even when you are not doing rigorous exercise, helping keep the pelvis level on the hip joint.
Image Source: Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain
Treat Yourself to a Massage
Massage is more than just a relaxing treat; it’s also good for your health. Whether you currently suffer from poor posture or if you’re looking to maintain your healthy posture, you should consider posture massage therapy. Numerous research studies have shown the efficacy of massage for posture and as a treatment for back pain and bad posture.
A 2017 meta analysis study that examined seven independent studies concluded massage therapy can significantly improve shoulder range of motion.
A study in 2001 by the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy helps reduce lower back pain and increase range of motion. Researches examined 24 individuals who had been reported low back pain for at least 6 months. Participants were randomly assigned into two groups: massage therapy or muscle relaxation. Each person received 30 minute sessions twice a week for a total of five weeks. By the end of the study participants in the massage therapy group reported less pain and showed improve range of motion in their spine.
A study published in 2011 by Annals of Internal Medicine examined the effect of massage on individuals with chronic low back pain. Researchers analyzed 401 people who reported nonspecific chronic low back pain. Participants were divided into three groups: structural massage, relaxation massage, or regular care (physical therapy and pain medication). Each group received one hour of therapy per week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, both massage groups reported significantly greater improvements in their low back pain compared to individuals who received regular care.
There are a number of different massage tools therapists can utilize for posture therapy, depending on the massage style. However, if you don’t have the time or resources to pay for a massage service, you can use rollers or massage balls to help loosen your muscles. Massage therapy can reduce muscle tension and encourage greater blood flow throughout the body. The loose joints will then be able to move more freely, encouraging good posture. Try out a massage for posture fix today.
Spend Less Time on Your Smartphone
It turns out smartphones may not only be addicting, but also bad for your posture. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found prolonged usage of cell phone leads to forward head posture (FHP) and impaired respiratory function. Researches measured the craniovertebral angle, a common metric used to asses head posture, of two groups: individuals who used smartphones less than 4 hours per day and those who used their phone for more than 4 hours each day. Subjects who spent more time on their smartphones tended to have poorer FHP and rounded shoulders. Forward head posture predisposes individuals to pain in the neck, back, and shoulders.
If You Have to Use Your Smartphone, Don’t Look Down
Smartphone usage isn’t slowing down any time soon. As of 2017, approximately 77 percent of people in the United States own a smartphone. For most people, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate time spent on their phone. Smartphones are much more than a tool to call another person - they are devices that allows users to access the internet, connect on social media, listen to music, pay their bills, send emails, and much more. Smartphones are so ingrained in our culture and provide many benefits, it probably isn’t a good idea to cut them completely out from our lives.
More smartphone usage means more people are spending significant time looking down at their phones. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, chief spine surgeon at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation, developed a computer model to assess how much force is placed on the cervical spine as the head tilts forward. Dr. Hansraj’s research paper, published in the Surgical Technology International journal, shows that the pressure on the neck increases as the head is flexed forward at varying degrees. In a neutral position, only 10-12 pounds of force are placed on the neck, which is the weight of an average adult head. When a head is tilted at a 60 degree angle, the force increases to approximately 60 pounds.
Dr. Hansraj notes that good posture is having your ears aligned with the shoulders and shoulder blades back. He recommends making an effort to look at your phone with a neutral spine and avoid spending hours each day hunched over.
Image source: Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head
Exercise and Stretch Consistently
Numerous research studies on how to fix posture suggest that exercise and stretching can help improve posture. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics examined the impact resistance and stretching training has on forward heard posture and protracted shoulder posture on adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17. Researches divided participants into two groups: a control group and an exercise group. The control group participated in regular physical education (PE) courses, while the exercise group received posture corrective program twice per week for four months in addition to PE classes. The program consisted of three stretching exercises and four strengthening exercises. The exercise group displayed significantly greater increases in cervical and shoulder angles at the end the study. By comparison, the control group did not show any difference.
Another study published in 2008 in Osteoporosis International concluded that spinal extension exercises can help deter the progression of excessive curvature of the spine, also known as kyphosis, in adult women. Researchers asked participants to perform nine extension exercises three times a week for one year. The women who followed through with the regimen displayed less advancement of their kyphosis compared to those who did not.
Ultimately, more research is needed to have a better understanding of the specific types of exercises and stretches that have the most impact on posture.
Our bodies adapts to the postures we spend the most time in. It’s critical to avoid developing bad habits that can gradually cause poor posture over the long-term. A few small changes can make a world of difference. Follow the tips outlined above and you will be on your way to improved posture and better overall health. If you're looking to improve your posture at home, make sure you check out the Ways to Improve Your Posture at Home article by Porch for some helpful tips.
How can massage therapy correct posture?
Several scientific studies prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that massage therapy corrects posture. They are:
- A study in 2001 by the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy helps reduce lower back pain and increase the range of motion.
- A study published in 2011 by Annals of Internal Medicine examined the effect of structural massages and relaxation massages on individuals with chronic low back pain. The individuals reported significantly greater improvements in their low back pain.
- A 2017 meta-analysis study that examined seven independent studies concluded that massage therapy can significantly improve shoulder range of motion.
What is the fastest way to improve posture?
If you're wondering how to fix your posture as fast as possible, the key is in strengthening and stretching the upper back, chest, and core muscles. You can do this by following these essential tips:
- Maintain a straight back
- Stay active, exercise a lot, and stretch consistently
- Be mindful of your posture during everyday activities
- Avoid sitting for long periods and lean slightly back when sitting
- Make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height for you
- Spend less time on your phone, and when using it, don’t look down
- Have frequent posture pros massages
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
Can you correct years of bad posture?
Yes, it’s usually never too late to correct posture, even if you’ve had broken vertebrae (just make sure they’ve healed and your doctor says it’s okay). However, if you have a spinal cord injury or you’ve had surgery to fuse or remove bones in your back, there may be some limitations to your posture improvement.
What are the five principles of good posture?
- Movement - Your body is designed to move and stay moving; posture ensures you can do this effectively.
- Balance - Proper posture allows you to balance your body against gravity comfortably and safely.
- Movement Patterns - The pattern of your body’s motion goes down the easiest path; this prevents your body from straining.
- Compensation - Your body learns patterns naturally to guide movement. When you experience pain, your body alters the way it moves to avoid pain.
- Adaptation - When you change your posture and motion, your body’s physiology also changes.
How long does it take to correct posture?
As with any other routine change, it takes about four to six weeks to see real change when correcting your posture.
What are the 7 points of posture?
Meditation masters have developed and described an ideal meditation posture and named it the posture of Vairocana, after a mythical Buddha. The seven points of the posture of Vairocana are:
- Legs crossed in the lotus or half-lotus position left leg over the right leg.
- Hands forming the cosmic mudra, palms up, the right hand placed flat on the left, near the stomach just below the navel, with thumbs touching lightly.
- Torso kept straight, neither bent nor leaning forward.
- Shoulders pulled back to open the torso without puffing out the chest.
- Neck in a natural position, in line with the spine, with the chin tucked in slightly.
- Tongue touching the palate lightly, just behind the upper teeth.
- Eyes open with a still gaze placed one to two meters in front.
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