What is "good" posture?
A topic of many, many hours of conversation in my life. I've heard this question more times than "what is the meaning of life?". As an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner who examines peoples' postures on daily basis, here are some of my thoughts...
What is good posture?
Most people seem to believe that good posture means "standing bolt upright in a perfectly centred and symmetrical position". You've probably all seen the textbook "perfect posture" showing perfect symmetry in the postural "plumbline" which bisects the body in each plane. I think it's important to remember that actually this is a theoretical positioning that healthcare practitioners (and others) use to describe actual posture (we have to measure against something, after all).
For example, "dropped shoulder on the right" means the right shoulder is lower than we would expect in the perfectly neutral, symmetrical position. But interestingly, the vast majority of people show a lower shoulder on their dominant side as they reach forward and use it more - an example of a postural adaptation to be efficiently right handed. In this scenario, the change in posture may be working as an advantage (despite asymmetry) in making you more efficient using your right hand - imagine how useful that is if you paint for 6 hours a day!
Not surprisingly, I have been examining postures for years and have never seen a "perfect posture" like in the textbooks.
We all have asymmetry that reflects the unique genetic structure of our body, environmental factors we are exposed to, adaptations depending on how we use our bodies and habits we have picked up. So it isn't about achieving the "perfect posture" position, but it's about achieving the best function to be able to carry out our activities as efficiently as possible.
An excellent approach to good posture would be to alleviate postural stressors whilst maintaining good health, fitness, muscle strength and range of motion in your joints. This is ultimately what decreases and prevents musculoskeletal pain too. The body inherently strives for postural health: the most efficient and painfree position. So if we have the functional capacity for good movement in all ranges, then the body is able to combat postural strain and reach its optimal positioning extremely well. This will prevent pain and guide your body naturally into good postural positioning. In other words, it's more about function than position.
Osteopathic Manual Practitioners can give you individualized treatment and advice on how to combat posture-related pain.
What can YOU do?
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Kick bad habits
For example: carrying heavy bags on one shoulder, hunching over you phone while texting, slumping heavily on the couch for hours without moving or slumping at the computer.
Static postural strain is the worst. Whether sat at a desk or painting for hours at work, make sure you shift/reset positon and break up sustained strain postures regularly (ideally every 15 mintues). Try not to force sustained postural positions, e.g. forcing yourself to stand bolt upright all the time.
Stretch/exercise areas vulnerable to postural strain
For example, if you have a tendency to slump then your upper back is often strained in a flexed position. To combat this, do some upper back rotation and extension exercises. Ensuring this good range of motion remains means that your body can achieve activities smoothly and efficiently, reducing pain and preventing injury.
Modify your workspace/position
Sitting on a swiss ball (like in the picture) is a nice way of being more dynamic while sitting at a desk. People tend to bounce up and down, shift weight around and strengthen stabilising postural muscles. A time to take caution may be if you already suffer with significant postural strain and end up fatiguing postural muscles to a point where it makes things worse. Often alternating use of chair/ball or adding back support is also a good tactic. Ergonomic assessment can be very valuable.
Good exercise technique
Do your homework and ask gym staff, physiotherapists or osteopathic manual practitioners for direction. This makes your workout more efficient, effective and specific while reducing injury risk. Performing exercises in poor postural positions reinforces strain to areas which are vulnerable to injury.
Good sleep position
We all think about our standing and sitting postures during the day, but did you remember to assess your sleeping position where you spend several hours per day?
Pay attention to body position, pillow position and pillow height. Try to avoid sleeping on your front as it causes torsion through the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Make some changes and enjoy better posture!