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How you hold your body and how you move your body matters. Poor posture can result in current or future health problems; commonly through promoting degeneration of your joints, leading to stiffness, pain and even organ dysfunction. Over time this can impact your sleep, energy and mental health. So how do you stand properly, sit properly, lie down properly and move properly? This article will review common problematic postures and give tips on how to check yourself and how to improve your posture for good health.

What is Posture?

Posture refers to the alignment of your body’s different limbs/segments. Most people think of their back and spinal alignment, though it can also refer to the proper positioning or rotation of limbs and the symmetry of each side of your body.

Signs and Effects of Bad Posture

Common problems

Effects of poor posture

Standing

-head and shoulders too far forward

-knees in locked position

-chin juts forward

-tight shoulder and neck muscles

-neck pain

Lying

-bed is too soft

-using several pillows under your head

-aggravation of low back pain and neck stiffness or pain

Sitting

-slumping with shoulders forward

-sliding forward on the seat

-loss of proper spinal curvature that can lead to degeneration in your spinal joints and risk of disc problems

Walking

-head facing downward

-head held too much to the front

-neck strain or pain

Carrying

-weight held only on one side

-carrying excessive weight

-lifting while twisting and bending your back

-imbalance in muscles

-risk of degenerative spinal joint disease

-risk of disc rupture and sciatic nerve pain

How to Self-Test your Posture

The Wall Test – stand with the back of your head and shoulder blades and buttocks all touching the wall with your heels about three inches away from the wall. Slide one hand behind your lower curve of your back. There should be room for one hand’s thickness at the curve of your low back. If there is no room for your hand then your low back curve is too little. To correct this, arch your back so your hand fits comfortably behind you.

However, if you find there’s more than enough room for your hand then your low back curve is excessive, in this case, tighten your abdominal muscles to flatten the low back curve. Now, step away from the wall – this is the correct low back posture to maintain through your daily activities.

The Mirror Test – stand in front of a mirror and look for differences between your right and left sides; is one shoulder higher/lower than the other, is your head tilted to one side. Now turn to one side and look again; is your head aligned with your chest and hips or is it shifted forward in relation to your chest/hips?

What Causes Poor Posture?

Common causes of poor posture include imitation of others with poor posture, tight muscles, one-sided weight-loading, stress, inadequate rehabilitation from injuries, improper exercise techniques, insufficient exercise, nutritional imbalances such as low magnesium or potassium.

Action plan

You can improve your postural alignment at any age, so begin your action plan to improve your overall health through improved posture.

Observe yourself occasionally through the day, such as while walking past a mirror or glass, or while standing in a line up, or while seated at your desk. If you notice something, then correct yourself (see tips below).

Incorporate relaxation and balance promoting exercises such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc. Stretching and core strengthening exercises can really help as well.

If you’re not sure, get extra help from a health professional that deals with posture such as a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist.

Tips for Proper Posture

Practicing good posture and recorrecting yourself as you go will eventually lead to better long term posture habits. If will feel a bit odd and you may feel stiff trying to adjust yourself, but over time you’ll find your posture improving. Below are some tips to align your body better.

When Standing – stand straight and tall with your shoulders back and your head in line with your body. Feet should not be locked and keep your weight primarily on the balls of your feet (not your heels). If you stand for long periods, shift your weight from your toes to your heels or from one foot to the other from time to time.

When Lying Down – it’s best to lie on your side or on your back and not on your stomach. A relatively thin pillow is best, one that keeps your head in alignment with your back with your neck supported. If you sleep on your back, a pillow under the knees can help maintain your spine curvature; if you prefer on your side, then a thin pillow between your knees may be ideal.

When Sitting – your feet should rest flat on the floor or on a footrest, thighs parallel to the floor; avoid crossing your legs. If your chair doesn’t support your low back curve, place a small pillow behind you. Tuck your chin in slightly and aim the top of your head toward the ceiling. Shoulders should be relaxed, not rising high, rounded/forward or pulled backward.

When Walking – keep your head upright and eyes looking straight. Align your head and back, avoiding a forward head tilt.

When Carrying – bend at the knees (not your waist) and use your large leg muscles and stomach muscles when lifting (not your back muscles) objects. Get help for heavy objects and try to balance weight on each side or alternate hands or back pack sides; consider a roller bag if the weight is more than usual in your back pack.

Dr. Rahim Habib ND
About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.