Posture refers to the position the body assumes during various activities such as sitting, standing or lying down. We will be highlighting standing posture by providing an overview of what ideal standing posture looks like, explain how to perform a quick self-assessment of your own posture, and offer five exercises that can be used to help improve standing alignment.
Good standing posture is important because it ensures that the body can withstand the force of gravity with little adverse stress to the muscles and bones. When a person is in an optimal standing position, the following anatomical landmarks should all be in vertical alignment when viewed from the side: the ear, the acromion of the shoulder, the center of the hip, knee and ankle bone.
To assess your own posture, stand against a wall in bare feet with your heels, buttocks, shoulder and head touching the wall and your feet straight. Pay attention to where the weight is in your feet: if you are standing in good alignment, your body weight should be positioned over your heels. However, if you feel pressure in the front of your feet and toes, this indicates that your body weight is falling forward. Consequently, you have to push down with your toes to keep balanced. This compensation will cause your calf muscle to tighten and affect the alignment of your feet, ankles, and knees.
Now slide your hand behind your back to evaluate the space between your lower back and the wall. If there is an acceptable degree of arch in your lower back, then you should only be able to slide your fingers into the space. If there is enough space for you to slide your whole hand or arm between your back and the wall, then your lower back is arching too much. As a result , many of the muscles that attached to the lumbar spine will be adversely affected. This can lead to dysfunction and chronic lower back pain. Lastly, try to decrease the arch in your lower back by tucking your pelvis under. You may notice that when you do this your shoulders round forward away from the wall. This indicates that the muscles of your shoulders and upper back are weak and unable to keep your shoulders back to the wall when you remove the excessive arch in your lower back. This weakness in the upper back and shoulders can lead to shoulder pain and place more stress on the structures of the lumbar spine.
Here are five examples of corrective exercises you can use to help improve posture and eliminate pain and dysfunction caused by the imbalances mentioned above.
Before you try to stretch or strengthen any area of the body, it is a good idea to warm up the muscles first to bring blood supply to the area. You can do this by performing self-massage techniques with a tennis ball. You can warm up your hip flexor muscles by lying on your stomach with a tennis ball under the front of your hips. Find a sore spot and hold your body weight on it for a few seconds to help your muscles release. Roll the ball to different sore spots and roll for about 30 seconds to 1 minute once per day.
Sitting at the computer all day with your upper back hunched and your shoulders rounded forward can lead to both muscular and skeletal imbalances in your upper back, neck and shoulders. The tennis ball around the shoulder blades is a great self-massage technique designed to rejuvenate and regenerate the muscles of those areas. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your head resting on a pillow. Pull one arm across your chest and place a tennis ball under the shoulder blade of that arm.
Tight calf muscles can lead to bad posture. Performing a calf stretch can help realign the posterior calf muscles to help shift your body weight back into your heels when standing. Stand in a split stance and push the heel of the back foot into the ground. Hold for 30 seconds on each side at least once per day.
The hip flexor muscles run from the lumbar spine across the pelvis and attach to the top of the leg. Stretching these muscles enables the hips to extend (i.e. move forward) under the spine so the lower back does not have to overcompensate by arching excessively to hold the torso upright. Kneel with one leg in front of the other. Posteriorly tilt the pelvis (i.e. tuck under) until you feel the glutes of the back leg contract. Keep the torso erect without arching the lower back excessively. Hold for 30 seconds on each side once per day.
Strengthening the muscles of the upper back can teach the body how to utilize the thoracic spine to lift the torso upright so the lower back does not get tired and overworked. Lie on the ground with your knees bent. Raise your arms overhead until they reach the ground. Pull your arms down into the floor without arching your lower back, shrugging the shoulders or bending your arms. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times at least 3-5 times per week.
Assessing posture on a regular basis can help you evaluate your body to see which areas are out of alignment and/or overworking. Addressing any imbalances you find with corrective exercises will help improve posture and decrease your aches and pains.Resource: AAHF