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Posture is more than just how well you sit or stand – it is a window into the health of your body and tells us how well your muscles, joints and nervous system are working. Dysfunction in the muscles, joints or nerves can be seen as subtle postural changes, such as tightness of a muscle or the position of a joint.
What is good posture?
There have been various opinions over the years on what ideal posture should look like. We have probably all been told at some time to “pull your shoulders back” or ”tuck in your stomach” but is this actually how we are designed to stand and move? Or is this perhaps doing us more harm than good?
Posture is best understood by looking through the lens of ‘developmental kinesiology’ – the study of the mechanics of human movement during early development. Observation and analysis of development from the new-born through to early childhood gives key understanding to how we are truly designed to function and therefore what resulting posture should look like.
We all have the same ‘postural’ or movement program stored in the brain. This is the program that takes us from flat on our backs at 3 weeks to standing tall at 3 years. This sequence is not learned – babies are not taught to lift their heads, to turn or to crawl. It is an inbuilt program that has been honed over millions of years of evolution. As the baby’s brain matures during this developmental period so does the control of its muscles allowing eventually for upright posture.
By assessing this development sequence we can understand what proper function and posture is, and what it isn’t. Good posture follows a few simple guidelines:
1. Proper ‘centration’ (alignment)
The joints should be aligned correctly both when static and when moving. This will differ slightly depending on individual body proportions but the same fundamentals hold true for everybody e.g.:
- Head directly over the shoulders, not poking forwards.
- Shoulders wide and spread, not hiked.
- A ‘long’ spine (not excessively straight, curved or slumped).
- Knees in-line with feet, not collapsing inwards.
However, if the body is functioning poorly (for whatever reason) we will see deviations from these ideals. Deviations follow common patterns in both the developmental period and later in life. The following illustrations show examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ postures in a prone position.
Here you can see a ‘good’ postural pattern in both baby and adult. Note the similar pattern in both pictures – neutral position of the low back and head with the shoulders depressed (green arrows).
Here you can see a ‘poor’ postural pattern. Note the similar pattern in both baby and adult – sagging lower back, elevated shoulders and jutting of the chin (red arrows). These postural deviations increase the risk of spine, shoulder and neck injuries.
2. Low muscle tone
There should be good co-ordination and balance between all the muscle groups. Excess ‘tone’ or tightness in a muscle group signifies imbalance. Excess tightness can then in turn lead to the development of muscle pain. This pain can be local (i.e. where the muscle is) as well as referred (distant to the muscle). For example, the infraspinatus muscle in the shoulder blade can cause pain in the back of the shoulder or down the arm and into the hand.
3. Proper Breathing Pattern
A normal breathing pattern is driven by the diaphragm (the muscle that sits under the lungs). With an ‘in’ breath the diaphragm should contract downwards, inflating the lungs. This filling of the lungs pushes the abdominal organs down leading to expansion of the abdomen. This is called a ‘diaphragmatic’ or an ‘abdominal’ pattern of breathing.
In many patients this pattern of breathing is disturbed. Instead of the diaphragm expanding the lungs from below, the muscles of the neck and shoulders lift the ribcage up. Breathing in this fashion overloads the muscles and joints of the neck, which can predispose to pain and injury.
Are you worried about your posture? Click here to find out how Dynamic Health can help.
This post was written by Steffen Toates. Steffen is a chiropractor at Dynamic Health Chiropractic in Jersey CI. For more information about Steffen click here.