Everybody knows, but doesn’t necessarily put the knowledge into practice, that good food, moderate exercise, adequate sleep, low stress, etc., are important to good health. Most of us, however, are unaware of the importance of skeletal alignment, otherwise known as good posture.
Just how important is good posture to fitness and health?
There are many posture defects which do not have any direct influence on fitness or health and others which can affect your functional efficiency and be a hazard to health. But all posture defects affect your appearance and often your morale. Dr. Hans Kraus, one of the world’s leading orthopedic experts specializing in back problems, claims that many back problems are caused when the abdominal posture “goes to pot,” the abdominal muscles sag downward. This, Dr. Kraus says, causes structural stress on the low back, tilts the pelvis and creates a negative health situation. When the body alignment is out of whack anywhere, there is a resultant structural stress and this, according to the site and degree of the problem, can begin a string of negative reactions.
Posture defects don’t go away on their own. You have to take corrective measures or they will get more pronounced. If you have a severe postural problem such as a marked scoliosis (lateral curve in the spine), you should have it medically evaluated.
Just what does good posture mean?
Basically, good posture refers to the state when each segment of the body is in its proper place – when there is a correct vertical and lateral alignment of all body parts. One good test is to stand with your back to the wall as follows: place heels against the wall (at floor level, of course!), keep your bottom and upper back touching the wall. In this position, the back of the head should also touch the wall; if it does not, the head is carried too far forward (anterior head carriage). Your lower back should be reasonably close to the wall, allowing for the natural curve of the spine (otherwise, you may have a lordosis, swayback in the area). Another test is to have someone (whom you know fairly well!) take a look at your back and have them check to see if your spine (backbone) is straight or curves to either side: if your shoulders are square or if one is lower than the other. Then, by yourself you can stand sideways (preferably nude) to a mirror and check to see if your stomach protrudes beyond your chest and sags in the lower abdominal area. Also, see if your upper back has a definite curve in it (kyphosis) and if your head seems too far forward in relation to the rest of your body. Also, see if your chest wall is inclined to be concave in the centre – you don’t have to have a round, deep chest – it can be structurally flat, but it should not be curved inward so that you have a spot that would hold water if you were lying on your back. Take a look at your hips and check to see if one hipbone seems lower than the other. Good posture is when you can make such a check without finding any deviation of any real consequence, and when, in the standing position, you feel and look tall for your body type, with no sags or out of line curves.
What is the difference between static and dynamic posture?
Static refers to how you line up structurally when you are sitting; dynamic is when you are standing, walking or moving around generally. Some people have good dynamic, but poor static posture and vice versa. If you lack in one of the two areas, you will eventually have trouble with both. Those who sit a lot, at work and at rest, should pay special attention to static posture. Those who are on their feet a great deal should give extra attention to their dynamic posture.
When sitting, get you low back and hips close to the back of your chair -if you don’t, stress is created by the curved position of your back and this curve will gradually become a postural habit (defect). Try to keep your stomach reasonably in and up – the same with your chest – sit as tall as you can, keeping the shoulders relaxed. It is better to keep your feet flat on the floor or crossed at the ankles rather than crossed at the knees. If you must bend over you desk when working, keep your back straight and move forward from the hips – don’t bow your back. When standing or walking, keep tummy comfortably in and up, chest fairly high, head not bent forward, keep your shoulders loose. If walking, lead with your front thigh on the striding leg, land lightly on your heel and rock up to the ball of the foot and try to keep your toes pointing straight ahead. When standing, don’t sag on one hip.
What causes posture defects?
Primarily either a lack of muscle strength, tone or flexibility, which means a part of your body will sag as a result of the force of gravity or a habit pattern that creates an adaptation by some body part which puts it out of line. Reading or watching television always lying on the same side, slumping in chairs, letting your stomach sag away on its own with no conscious control on your part and letting your mental or emotional attitude create a body slump, are some examples.
What is the “S” look?
It sure doesn’t mean sexy! The “S” look is when you have a rounded upper back, a protruding or sagging abdomen, swayback and a forward tilted pelvis, along with a head that is too far forward, usually as a result of the rounded upper back. This “S” look typifies a body which has lost its muscle strength and tone in the holding muscles of the body and/or if you are generally fatigued or have a low morale: Life is getting you down and your body posture is showing it. Good posture often affects morale and vice versa. If you feel down, straighten up and walk tall and you’ll probably feel better.
Try this. For five minutes several times per day, walk around exaggerating good posture, really pull your stomach in, chest high and spread, head erect – walk tall! This will help condition and strengthen the key muscles and make normally good posture a lot easier. Remember, you don’t make a good picture if your frame in bent.