Posture and Back Pain



Your mother and teachers have told you this for years: sit up straight, unfold your legs, keep your feet on the floor. And don’t slouch! Turns out, they were right. Even if their motivations were less than pure.  


For the most part, admonitions about posture have been focused on how bad posture looks to others. A slouchy, slumped over postures is hardly impressive. At least in most circles. But there are far more important reasons than the essentially social and esthetic to get and stay in the habit of maintaining good posture. And anyone who has experienced ongoing back pain can tell you why: it can save you a lot of discomfort – and worse – down the road. 


There are two fundamental barriers to good posture. The first is that most people don’t fully understand what “good” posture is, and how to achieve it. The second is that many of, by the time we come around to the wisdom of good posture, we have serious imbalances in our back and related muscles groups, which makes holding that good posture difficult. 


Looking at what good posture is, the fundamental guidelines is pretty simple: good posture is achieved when there is alignment between neighboring parts of the body. When you are in a good posture, the workload of keeping your body upright and moving is equally shared across the muscles. One way to determine how good posture should feel is to stand up in a position you think is good posture. You should be able to draw an imaginary line, a straight one, from your ear, down to your shoulder, to the hip, and then middle of the knee and then ankle.  


What most people will realize is that that straight line will stop abruptly after leaving the ear. Many people hold their heads too far forward or forward and pitch slightly upward. But even those who do have good neck posture, though, will sometimes find that the line stops at the hip, as many people stand with hips jutted outward. 


So that’s what good posture should feel like. Now, how to maintain it, which is often more difficult. The difficulties associated with holding good posture have to do with the way that muscles start to perform once they get out of balance with the other muscles with which they work. 


All the muscles in your body perform in concert with other muscles, mostly those muscles nearby, or those muscle that are left/right equivalent (e.g., left and right quadriceps). In order for these muscle to work in concert, they must be of more or less equal strength and more or less equal flexibility. They don’t have to be exact, but they do have to be pretty close in strength and flexibility. 


Poor posture, when maintained and practiced over time, will create imbalances in the muscles. Sitting slouched over will weaken certain muscles. Once weakened, the surrounding muscles must begin to take on more of what was once a shared workload. The longer this situation persists, the more likely you are to be left with muscles so weakened that they actually have to be built back up before you can hold a good posture. 






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