Bad posture can put excessive strain on certain portions of the spine, which, over time, may contribute to back problems. Proper posture aligns the head, chest and pelvis so that they are centered over one another, with the body’s weight centrally balanced. Stooped shoulders, a forward-pitched head, slouching while sitting or an excessive arch in the lower back can throw off the body’s natural balance and put undue stress on certain muscles in the back, while leaving others underused.
Fortunately, poor posture can be corrected. Contrary to popular misconceptions, good posture does not require a rigidly straight (“soldier at attention”) back, but instead embraces the natural alignment that follows the spine’s gentle S-shaped curve.
To evaluate your posture, stand sideways in your normal posture—avoiding the temptation to “suck it in”—alongside of a mirror to see yourself in profile. Looking out of the corner of your eye (turning your head toward the mirror as little as possible), imagine a straight plumb line hanging from the ceiling.
If you have proper posture, that straight line would pass through the top center of your head, past the front of your earlobe, the front of your shoulder, the center of your hip, immediately behind your kneecap and to the front of your ankles. Your spine should curve gently inward at the base of your head and neck, outward at your shoulders and inward again at your lower back where it meets the hips and buttocks.
When seated, the imaginary plumb line should pass again through the same points from the top of the head to the center of the hips, with only a shallow curve in the lower back.
Once you understand what good posture should be, you can work on improving poor posture. Follow these guidelines:
- Stand with your weight mostly on the balls of the feet, not on your heels.
- Keep your feet slightly apart, about shoulder-width.
- Let your arms hang naturally along the sides of your body.
- Avoid locking your knees.
- Be sure your head is aligned on top of the neck and spine, not jutting forward.
- Stand straight and tall, with your shoulders upright.
- If standing for long periods, shift your weight from one foot to the other, or rock from heels to toes.
- Stand against a wall with your shoulders and buttocks touching it. The back of your head should also touch the wall. If not, your head is pitched too far forward.
- Keep your head up and eyes focused straight ahead.
- Avoid extending your head out in front of the rest of your body.
- Keep your shoulders back, aligned with your hips.
- Keep your back aligned against the back of your chair. Avoid slouching or leaning forward, especially when fatigued from sitting for long periods.
- For long-term sitting, such as in an office chair, be sure the chair is ergonomically designed to properly support your back and that it is adjusted specifically for you.
- When sitting on an office chair at a desk, your arms should be flexed at a 75- to 90-degree angle at the elbows. If this is not the case, the office chair should be adjusted accordingly.
- Your knees should be even with your hips, or just slightly higher.
- Keep both feet flat on the floor. If your feet do not reach the floor comfortably, use a footrest.
- Sit with your shoulders straight.
- Do not remain seated in one place for too long, even in ergonomically “correct” office chairs that have good lumbar support. Get up to walk around and stretch regularly.
Published March 12, 2014