This has been debated for centuries… Posture is how we hold ourselves up against gravity whether standing, sitting or laying down. We want to maintain an elongated spine without stress or tension; this requires that our bodies be efficiently aligned and balance. You may notice as you stand at a museum or sit at your computer that your body feels strain and you shift positions. This is excellent because repetitive strain causes injury so you want to continue to shift your body out of a position of strain. If your muscles and bones are aligned, you will be able to maintain a dynamic posture without strain.
How? To have the least amount of strain in standing, in the PT world, we assess good posture using a “plum line.” From a side view, if standing in an aligned posture a straight line should drop from the ear through the center of the shoulder, through the hip down to the ankle. If you can line yourself up with a vertical line such as a door hinge or shower curtain and look sideways over your shoulder in the mirror (no judgment, just curiosity) and see if these points line up. In an aligned posture from the front looking in a mirror, the ear lobes should be symmetrical; shoulders should be level, hip-bones level (iliac crest and ASIS), and knees and ankles level. Ideally we keep this static alignment in dynamic movements too such as walking, going up and down stairs. Athletes are consistently training to make their movements as efficient or skilled as possible. In our high tech world we must also train our efficient posture to avoid injury to our spines.
In order to maintain this aligned posture we need to strengthen the postural muscles that are weak and elongate the muscles that are tight. Hours of siting and staring into a computer, TV or mobile device have wrecked havoc on our spines. Many people now have shortened hip flexor muscles since in a seated position our hips are flexed, this is fine if we crawled everywhere but when we stand and walk short hip flexors can pull on our spines. Also short necks with chin jutting forward in “forward head posture.” To top it off, from the seated flexed posture with comfy backrests and couches, many people have decreased strength and endurance in the spine extensor muscles. Maintain this posture for an extended period or take this inefficient and shortened posture to the gym or track and you are headed for injury.
So what to do? Keep moving, have meetings while walking. Sit on exercise balls instead of chairs. This will help increased postural endurance. Strengthen your back extensor and abdominal muscles in an elongated position. Stretch your hip flexors. Bridges (see picture) is a great exercise that can touch on all of this. If you have spinal stenosis be careful with this exercises avoid excessive extension, modify the exercise by not going too high.
Overall, if you see your posture is off from the plum line, try to elongate what is short and train your body to stay in this aligned position. This can be difficult to see in yourself, you can try asking a friend or even better get the advice of a trained professional such as a physical therapist or an experience Pilates or GYROTONIC® exercise instructor.
Justine Bernard, PT DPT