The Importance of Good Posture

By Charles Jones

The importance of good posture cannot be under-estimated. In this article we will examine what is posture, compare good and bad posture, review factors influencing correct posture, and finally, address how posture affects you.

What is Posture?

What is posture? A study by Thomas (1997) defined posture as an attitude or position of the body. When you think of posture what images come to mind? Do you picture a models posture when they pose or the strut of the athlete or team who have just completed some remarkable sporting feat? Or do you think of your body's posture when you are standing, sitting, walking, running or moving in any of the myriad of ways it does?

According to Martin (2002) posture should accomplish the following 3 functions:

  • Sustain alignment of the body regardless of orientation (sitting, standing, etc.)

  • During voluntary movements it must anticipate change

  • React to unexpected instability or problems with balance
  • The Importance of Good Posture

    Posture is dynamic, functioning always by maintaining a current posture or moving between postures. Even when sleeping we assume a posture. Humans use posture to communicate via body language, or posturing. From walking to flirting to fighting we use posture to relate to others in many ways.

    Good Posture vs Bad Posture!

    So what constitutes poor posture and good posture? From a biomechanical point of view, if you were standing in a natural posture and a plum line was hung from a side on view of you, and that line passes (roughly) through the middle of your ear, middle of your shoulder joint, just behind your hip and passes just in front of the middle of the knee and ankle joints that would be considered good alignment.

    A plum line hung from a front on view showing similar symmetry would also be considered good posture. Think of a ballroom dancer's posture, how tall and proud they stand. In a seated position you would ideally have a similar erect posture in your torso with a 90 degree angle at the hips and knees and feet flat on the ground.

    Posture deviating from this could be considered poor or bad posture in a biomechanical sense though individual difference also plays a part resulting in similar postures in different people have varying degrees of impact. Posture can be static (stationary) or dynamic (moving). You can be seated or standing and be in static or dynamic posture or both simultaneously as a person can have static legs and dynamic movements occurring in their arms or vice-versa.

    Factors Influencing Posture

    What images come to mind when you think of good posture? This is important as the choices you make relating to your awareness of posture and to what constitutes good posture to you will reflect in your posture. From a global or total body perspective to a local or joint perspective you are repeating postures you have adapted to through life for various reasons, be they emotional and/or physical, acute or chronic, they all effect your posture for good and not so good.

    Social and economical reasons affect posture, scar tissue, previous injury, acute and chronic inflammation all influence posture. Pain has a massive influence on posture, as evidenced by limping or guarding a body part when injured, known as antalgic postures.

    Posture(s) you assume for long periods of time can adversely affect your neuro-muscular-skeletal system, affecting muscle innervation sequence and length-tension relationships around joints, altering joint mechanics and movement patterns and contribute to discomfort and pain. A 'desk jockey' sitting with slumped and rounded shoulders, with head forward posture for 8 hours per day, 5 days a week is going to end up assuming that poor postural position more and more.

    The more time they spend in poor posture the more comfortable they will feel in poor posture. The human body has an amazing adaptive quality. Expose it to something (say a posture) for long enough and pretty soon it's the norm. Studies have shown that muscles placed into shortened or lengthened positions for long enough have resulted in physiological adaption that actually removes or adds sarcomeres, the contractile unit in muscle, by way of adaption.

    Poor stability contributes to poor posture at both global and local levels, impacting on posture during static and dynamic movements. Poor stability and lack of control at a joint can result in injury at that joint or elsewhere in the body. Global posture and joint posture can each affect the other to varying degrees. Poor core stability is not congruent with graceful or powerful human movement, but is associated with poor and dysfunctional movement that may also result in injury.

    Muscle imbalance can be the result of or contribute to poor stability and ergo, poor posture. Muscle imbalances can be the result of imbalanced and/or non-functional training regimes, from a sport such as field hockey or martial arts training. Have you ever noticed how bodybuilders or powerlifters move or stand? Their movements are dictated by their training? Overtrain some movements or muscles at the expense of others and this will influence your posture.

    The role fascia plays in posture is not fully understood but should not be underestimated. Every tissue in the body is connected to others via fascial connections or trains that add strength to the body in both static and dynamic postures.

    How Posture Affects You

    Posture can influence many aspects of your life. Posture reflects and impacts on the health of your musculoskeletal system and can impact on organ health and overall health. Postures direct impact on musculoskeletal system can be very damaging as it can contribute to any number of musculoskeletal conditions that can directly impact on your day to day life.

    Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), upper cross and lower cross syndromes are just a few of the musculoskeletal conditions connected to sustained poor postures and muscular imbalances. Conditions like these can result in symptoms such as vascular and neural compromise, pain referrals, cramps, headaches and dizziness to name a few.

    Bad posture can contribute to the development of myofascial trigger points in muscles, resulting in further musculoskeletal conditions and/or pain.

    As previously stated, muscle imbalance affects static and dynamic posture, and can be caused by imbalanced training programs. Humans use different combinations from approximately 6 innate 'primary' movement patterns including squat, push, pull and rotate which develop at different stages of life and use the coordinated action from groups of muscles. Development of one or more of these movements at the expense of the others, poor exercise form or working muscles in isolation can cause muscular imbalance.

    Men who focus on "mirror" muscles at the gym, the pecs, lats and arms are an example of this. As the pecs and lats are both medial (internal) rotators of the shoulder, over-emphasis on these muscles will directly impact shoulder posture, resulting in short and tight pecs and lats, medially rotated shoulders and long and weak external shoulder rotators. Not a good look or position for dynamic or graceful movement.

    To avoid training related postural imbalances it would be wise to review your training plan and include many multi-joint, co-ordinated movements and minimise single joint, isolated movements. Exercise in isolation is not what humans are built for. We do not move in isolated, staggered movements (unless drug effected!), so why train them? Train the body as a unit, as it is built to be used. Train smart. Train to improve how you move.

    This training concept can have positive effects on current poor postures. It can mitigate and even reverse the effects of sustained poor postures that people may have been or are being subjected to at work. Training with emphasis on good posture executed with good form and with the intention strengthening the body as a whole can transcend all levels of your life and improve overall quality of life.

    It is like the chicken and egg scenario sometimes though, is injury the result of poor posture or poor posture the result of injury? I believe that it cuts both ways so correct posture and correct and balanced rehabilitation programs when recovering from injury are imperative.

    To minimise any issues that can result from bad posture and ensure you get the most out of your body is not difficult to accomplish. Being aware of your posture, especially in sustained positions and correcting it diligently until it becomes innate to assume good posture most of the time will benefit you.

    Not allowing yourself to be confined to one position for extended periods of time, getting up out of your chair to get a drink and move for 5 minutes per hour is not a big ask, especially if good posture is important to you. Corrective exercise programs designed to emphasise function using compound exercises that make you stand tall and proud, not stooped and dysfunctional, will enhance quality of life and decreasing your chance of injury.

    If you would like to find out exactly how to get good posture, get a copy of Perfect Posture Program.

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