Growing up you’ve probably been told by your parents not to slouch. And for good reasons! Posture technically refers to how your spine is positioned when you’re sitting, standing, or lying down. Since gravity is always exerting a force on your joints, ligaments, and muscles, this alignment is crucial to avoid overstressing your musculoskeletal system (1).
Weak muscles, being overweight, improper sleeping position, stress, tight muscles, and slouching can all lead to poor posture. The longer you get into the habit, the harder it is to break. Eventually, poor posture can permanently damage your muscles and joints and cause chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain.
If you’re interested in learning about how to improve posture and avoid these problems, read on!
Why Is Posture Important?
Slouching isn’t sexy. In fact, it’s culturally associated with low self-esteem and frailty.
But poor posture also has pretty serious medical consequences too.
- Foot, knee, hip, and back injuries
- Muscle atrophy and weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Digestion issues
- Impingement and nerve compression
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Poor circulation
- Muscle strain
- Poor digestion
- Higher risk of joint discomfort arthritis
- Shallow breathing
Since posture engages the back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles, and side muscles, slouching is the first sign that these muscles are overworked, weak, or injured.
These muscles help keep your joints in perfect alignment and prevent injury to the spine and ligaments (5). They’re the first things that you should work on if you’re trying to learn how to have a better posture.
How To Check If Your Spine Is Straight
Here’s a simple test to find out if you’re standing straight with a proper posture (6):
- Stand with your head, shoulder blades and buttocks touching a wall, and have your heels about 2 to 4 inches (about 5 to 10 centimeters) away from the wall.
- Reach back and slide your hand behind the curve in your lower back, with your palm flat against the wall.
- Ideally, you’ll feel about one hand’s thickness of space between your back and the wall.
- If there’s too much space, tighten your abdominal muscles to flatten the curve in your back. If there’s too little space, arch your back so that your hand fits comfortably behind you.
- Walk away from the wall while maintaining this posture. Keep it up throughout your daily activities.
This only confirms your vertical alignment, so look at yourself in the mirror too.
Are your hips aligned? Does on leg look longer than the other? Are your shoulders at the same height? Is your neck straight? Look straight in the mirror, and make adjustments until everything’s in line.
Here’s what your posture should look like throughout the day.
To sit down (7):
- Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Don’t cross your legs. Your ankles should be in front of your knees. Keep a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat.
- If the chair doesn’t support your lower back’s curve, place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back.
- Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling, and tuck your chin in slightly.
- Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed — not elevated, rounded or pulled backward.
- Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.
- Keep your knees slightly bent.
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Let your arms hang naturally down the sides of the body.
- Stand straight and tall with your shoulders pulled backward.
- Tuck your stomach in.
- Keep your head level-your earlobes should be in line with your shoulders. Do not push your head forward, backward, or to the side.
- Shift your weight from your toes to your heels, or one foot to the other, if you have to stand for a long time.
To lie down:
- Find the mattress that is right for you. While a firm mattress is generally recommended, some people find that softer mattresses reduce their back pain. Your comfort is important.
- Sleep with a pillow. Special pillows are available to help with postural problems resulting from a poor sleeping position.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
- Sleeping on your side or back is more often helpful for back pain. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs. If you sleep on your back, keep a pillow under your knees.