Posture? What Exactly Is It?

What is good posture?

We have all heard of posture but many of us don’t actually know what it means.  Posture refers to the bodies alignment relative to gravity. Gravity forces our body towards the ground and as such our joints, muscles and ligaments are continually resisting these forces in order to keep us in our desired position.

Posture is not limited to our standing or sitting position, but also refers to the way in which we perform active tasks as well, such as swinging a tennis racket or hanging clothes on the line.  Our bodies shape and size is unique to us and so no two people will have the same posture. When our body is in a “good” posture, it will be in a position where the gravitational stresses can be properly distributed to the intended structures.  This allows your body to function as efficiently as possible.  As a result, our body doesn’t have to work as hard, uses less energy and takes longer to fatigue.

Having good posture also allows for a bigger chest cavity, and therefore better lung capacity, and it minimises restriction of peristaltic movements (the contraction and relaxation of the stomach and intestines required to move food through your digestive system).  A body that functions with good posture will not only make it through the day with more energy, but will also perform better!

What causes poor posture?

This is one of the most common questions patients will ask us. A person’s posture is unique to that individual, varying largely as a result of lifestyle choices and genetics.  Some common factors that contribute to poor posture include:

  • lack of education or awareness of correct posture
  • habit – your body will learn to adapt to positions you continuously put it in
  • poor ergonomics in day to day, prolonged or repetitive tasks, eg sitting at a desk or driving
  • fatigue – the body may not be able to maintain good posture when overexerted or when asked to maintain a certain position for a prolonged period of time
  • inappropriate exercise resulting in muscle imbalances
  • sedentary lifestyles resulting in muscle weakness
  • injury – the body may adopt poor posture in order to avoid pain
  • stress – resulting in increased muscle tightness
  • excess weight – the body may need to work harder to offset the uneven distribution of weight, eg increased abdominal weight increases the load on the lower back

Can poor posture lead to pain?

Yes!  Maintaining good posture allows our body weight, or line of gravity, to fall through the most ideal position in a joint.  This places as little stress through the joint and the surrounding muscles and ligaments as possible. If our body weight, or line of gravity, moves away from the ideal position, increased stress is placed on this joint.  If this stress is great enough or occurs over a prolonged period, you may start feeling pain. This change in the line of gravity may also place extra tension on the ligaments around the joint. Once again, if this extra tension is great enough, or occurring for an extended length of time, you may start feeling pain.  

On top of this, when we start to move our body weight away from the preferred position, our nervous system  kicks in and tells muscles to pull you back in to a more desirable position. Continually activating muscles can cause them to become fatigued, often resulting in tightness or pain in these areas.  As you can see, there are a number of ways poor posture can lead to pain!

How can Osteopathy help my posture?

As Osteopaths, we begin by taking a detailed history. This gives us insight into not only the areas you may be experiencing pain, but also any lifestyle factors that may affect your posture, such as your occupation, hobbies and physical activity.  We will then carry out a thorough physical examination. We will not only look at how you are standing, sitting and laying but also how you are moving. This enables us to identify what your optimal posture should be and to then isolate any muscles or joints that are not functioning as well as they should be.  This may be because they are too stiff, too tight or too weak.

From here, your Osteopath will treat any areas of dysfunction that have been identified using a variety of hands on techniques.  The aim of this is to allow your body to assume its ideal posture, thus reducing the stress placed on joints, ligament and muscles and allowing your body to operate more efficiently.  It is also very common for your osteopath to prescribe you specific rehabilitation exercises. These exercises will be unique to your posture and day to day activities and are designed to strengthen any weakness your body might have.  

Finally, your Osteopath will give you specific advise on how you can adapt your lifestyle to improve your posture.  This may cover a wide variety of areas, such as occupational ergonomics, sporting technique or even better ways to perform day to day tasks such as housework.

Does my posture affect my athletic performance?

Yes!  A lot of people will associate poor posture with an increased risk of pain, however few people are aware of your postures influence on your athletic ability.  In order for your muscles to perform at their best, they need to be in a position to do so. This is referred to as its length-tension relationship. When a muscle is stretched to its ideal length, it can maximise its contraction.  This allows a muscle to produce more strength and function for longer! Tailoring your exercise program around your individual posture as well as your sporting goals can dramatically improve your performance. This can easily be done with the help of one of the Osteopaths or Exercise Physiologists at Beyond.

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