What is Posture and Why Does It Matter?

Good posture is biomechanically sound.

A woman stands in the yoga tadasna or mountain pose.
The start position for the stretching exercise for pecs at the corner is standing with good posture and gaze forward. fizkes

What Is Posture?

Posture is the combined arrangement of all joint positions of your body at any given moment.  It can be understood as an attitude or bearing you bring to the specific physical actions you take. In other words, to a great extent, how you do what you do shows up in your posture.

When you are not in motion, posture is referred to as static. Static posture is defined and described in terms of your bone and joint positions.

  Experts use an ideal posture as a standard, which allows them to compare deviations from it, in order to better understand problems and issues to be addressed.

What Is "Good Posture?"

When a person is standing straight, the view from the front or back should show a spine that is aligned from the top of the head through the pelvis to the bottom of the feet. The view from the side should shows a spine with three natural curves -- at the neck, the mid-back, and the lower back. The spine should not be curved to left or right.

The beauty of the “ideal posture” is that it is biomechanically sound, and very efficient. In this case, efficiency refers to the ability to maintain one’s form upright with minimal use of muscle contraction.  It is characterized by good joint alignment – where bones fit together the way they were designed, rather than being pulled out of alignment by strain or weakness.

 The presence of curves in the spine greatly enhances this biomechanical efficiency.

Postural Problems Related to the Spine

Postural problems can be caused by scoliosis. Scoliosis is a lateral curve of the spine to right or left. It is often of unknown cause, and commonly occurs in children and adolescents.

Older adults can also develop scoliosis as a result of various neurological and medical conditions. Depending upon its severity, scoliosis can cause problems with mobility; it is often treated with back braces and/or surgery.

Other postural problems include kyphosis, in which the top of the spine bends forward and lordosis, an exaggerated curve of the lower back. Lordosis is often associated with pregnancy.

Postural Problems Related to Lifestyle

Not surprisingly, people who get little exercise and tend to sit a great deal (such as truck drivers and some IT professionals) are often subject to postural problems. Sitting with a slumped spine and head pushed forward can lead to muscular pain and other related issues.

Too much exercise done incorrectly can also lead to postural problems. Weight lifting, in particular, can be dangerous when done incorrectly. Injuries can involve the lower back (bulging disks, for example) or the neck.

Incorrect load-bearing activity can be hazardous. Injuries to young backs are often the result of carrying heavy backpacks -- whether on the back or, more often, over one shoulder.

Incorrect load carrying can lead to injury in itself; in addition, incorrect stance can lead to spinal issues.

Related:  Embrace Your Spinal Curves

Sources

Al-Eisa, Einas, Ph.D. Postural Deviations and Kinesiology. Lecture slides from Kansas State University. ND.

Kendall, Florence Peterson, McCreary, Elizabeth Kendall, and Provance, Patricia Geise. Muscles Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. 3rd. Baltimore, Maryland: Williams & Wilkins, 1983.

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