Getting told to sit up straight may for some bring back bad memories of being yelled at by the teacher in school for slumping at our desk… but is it as important as we think?
So what is posture?
Our posture is how our body, particularly our spine and pelvis, is aligned as we sit, stand and move around. Having ‘good posture’ allows the forces going through our body to be distributed equally into different structures, so that none get overloaded.
What is good posture?
It’s not as simple as being told to simply ‘sit up straight’!
Looking at your back and pelvis, you may notice you have different curves from your lower to upper back and into your neck, almost like a slight ‘S’ shape. Some people have a bigger more exaggerated ‘S’, while others have a flatter spine.
Both are normal and are just part of our genetics. Maintaining your spinal position while sitting, standing and lifting, is part of good posture. It requires good muscle strength, length and endurance, and can often be quite tiring if maintained for a long time.
What happens if I don’t have good posture?
Large variations from your normal posture can start to put undue stress on certain structures and may start to cause some discomfort. However, maintaining a rigid upright spine all day will likely cause some discomfort too. It is about how long for, and under what loads we have this bad posture that contributes to if it will be a problem.
For example, slumped on the couch for a few hours watching Netflix might cause some short term back ache. However, once you get up and move around it will settle. Sitting like this all day, every day, would likely cause some long term stiffness and pain. The same goes for sitting at your desk at work all day!
Lifting a large weight with a very rounded spine is more risky, due to the increased load on the joints and discs in the back. One poor lift might be ok, but doing this repetitively could result in aggravation to these structures.
So what can I do?
Don’t try and sit in a rigid, bolt upright position all day long! Try and maintain a gentle backward curve (lordosis) in the lower part of your lumbar spine, preferably supported by your chair or a rolled towel. It should feel relaxing and easy to sit this way. If you need to slump (rest!) for a little, this is ok.
Most of all, remember that our bodies were designed to move, and change positions. So if you do work in a sitting job, make sure you get up and walk around, little and often. If you work in a standing job, make sure change position regularly. Go and get that glass of water, stand up as you speak on the phone, or go talk to your co-worker instead of sending (another) email.
Pilates is also excellent for recruiting the correct postural muscles and ensuring this becomes more second nature. People often say they notice how much better they are “holding themselves” after just a few classes.
Are there other benefits to good posture?
Research has shown that having good posture can contribute to lifted moods, better digestion, improved memory and easier breathing. So maybe those primary school teachers were right after all.