Good posture is a goal for everything from sitting at your desk to walking down the street. What is good posture? Posture, for this case describes the position of the spine, but it also has other body parts acting on it.
The spine is divided into three groups of bones called vertebrae. The bottom vertebrae form your lower back and top vertebrae form your neck. Both of these have a natural curve, which is in the same direction: the inside of this curve faces backwards. The upper back’s vertebrae form a curve with the inside facing forward. The vertebrae of the upper back attach to your ribs in back. Your ribs connect to your breast bone in front. On each side of the vertebrae of your upper back, muscles and ligaments hold your shoulder blades onto the back of your ribs. Your arms are attached to your shoulder blades. All of these bones and curves comprise posture.
Having good posture means maintaining your curves without exaggerating them. Exaggerated curves stress and cause pain in the soft tissues that attach to the bones:
ligaments, tendons and muscles. Gravity’s pull can increase the curves. An example of this is working with your arms in front of you when you work at a keyboard, cooking, driving, etc. Gravity pulls the arms further forward, which pulls the shoulder blades forward and increase the curve of your upper back, as you can see in this illustration.
When your upper back is curved forward, you have to hold your head up to see what you are doing. This exaggerates your neck’s curve and results in what is called a “forward head” posture, further illustrated in the “slump/slouch” illustration (below).
Correct the upper back’s forward curve by tilting up the breast bone. Then allow the shoulder blades to drop down on your back, like the picture: “poised/relaxed” (right). Beware, when trying to correct the forward curve, the tendency is to increase the lower back’s curve, as in “forced upright.”
Countering this over exaggeration is challenging: when you tilt the breast bone up, use your abdominal muscles to hold the front of your ribs down. This helps to maintain the natural curve of the lower back. Though difficult, this is worth the effort: when the curves of the upper and lower back are corrected, the curve at the neck should fall in line and you eliminate much potential pain and injury.
Laura Schultz, M.P.T., C.E.E.S.