A healthy posture is important to keep spine strong and stable. A healthy back has three natural curves:
- Cervical curve, an inward or forward curve at the neck
- Thoracic curve, an outward or backward curve in the upper back
- Lumbar curve, an inward curve of the lower back
A good posture helps maintain these natural curves in the back, and is defined by the position that is attained when joints are not bent or twisted, and the spine is aligned along its length. A good posture requires a person to train the body to move and function in a way that the bones, joints and soft tissues experience the least strain.
Poor posture is when a person stoops or slouches, stressing or pulling the muscles of the back, making it difficult for muscles and ligaments to keep the body in balance. Poor posture can lead to back pain, headaches, back strain and other problems.
Benefits of a good posture
Here’s how good body posture can help the body:
- Keeps bones and joints in correct alignment, allowing proper and efficient use of muscles.
- Optimised breathing and circulation.
- Prevents abnormal wearing out of joints that could otherwise lead to degenerative diseases like arthritis.
- Reduces stress on ligaments, muscles, spinal discs and muscles of the back.
- Prevents the spine from getting fixed at certain points.
- Allows back muscles to function properly and in correct alignment, preventing muscle fatigue.
- Prevents overuse issues and postural strain.
- Prevents back and neck pain.
- Enables healthy appearance.
What is the correct posture?
Let’s take a look what correct posture means while standing, sitting and lying down:
#1 Standing posture
The following points must be kept in mind while standing:
- Abdomen should be pulled in.
- Shoulders must be kept back and in relaxed mode.
- Feet should be placed about a hip distance apart; knees should be relaxed, and not be locked.
- Body weight must be spread evenly between both feet.
- Hands should hang naturally at the sides.
- The head must be straight, without tilting forward, backward or sideways.
Wall test to check posture
To test if the standing posture is correct, a person must stand facing away a wall with his/her head, shoulder blades and buttocks touching the wall, and heels placed about two to four inches away from the wall. One hand can slide behind the curve of the lower back, keeping the palm flat against the wall. The right posture will leave a space of about one-hand thickness between the back and wall. Too much space signifies that the abdominal muscles must be tightened further, and too little space requires further arching of the back. The person can now walk away from the wall, maintaining the same posture.
#2 Sitting posture
The following points must be followed when seated:
- The right chair will allow a person’s both feet to rest on the floor while keeping the knees levelled with the hips. A footstool can be placed to prop up feet to bring the knees and hips at same level.
- The back must rest against the chair. If the chair’s back does not support the natural curve of the body’s back, a small pillow or rolled towel can be placed instead.
- The top of the head should be stretched towards the ceiling, and chin tucked in slightly.
- Care should be taken to keep the neck and upper back straight in a comfortable position.
- Shoulders should be relaxed (not rounded, elevated or pulled backward).
#3 Sleep ergonomics
Postures and positions during sleep also matter as they either allow a person to rest in positions safe for the joints or they stress the joints to a point that the sleep only adds more aches and pains. Healthy sleep ergonomics suggest the following:
For sleeping on the side (considered the best sleeping position):
- Legs should be drawn up, slightly towards the chest.
- A pillow can be placed between the legs. A full-length pillow helps maintain balance.
- Arms should be crossed in a braced position. Care must be taken to not put weight on the arms, as it causes circulatory problems and a sensation of pins-and-needles.
For those sleeping on the back:
- A pillow can be placed under the knees to maintain the curve of lower back.
- A small rolled-up towel under the small curve of back adds support.
For those sleeping on their stomach:
- This position is not good for the back as the cervical spine stays under stress that can lead to muscle pain, muscular imbalance and nerve compression.
- However, for those who use it as a predominant sleep position, placing a pillow under the lower abdomen and pelvis can relieve the strain on back.
- A head pillow may or may not be required depending on the person’s comfort level.
Mattress and pillow ergonomics: An ergonomic pillow minimises any tension to the neck and spine in a sleeping position. Shaped differently from normal pillows, an ergonomic pillow is often made of foam to offer greater support. These vary from being small neck pillows used in travel to large full-body pillows that can cradle the entire body during sleep. Like a pillow, a mattress should also support a body’s natural position. A correct mattress maintains the spine’s alignment. It should be turned every few months and replaced after five to seven years of use.
For most, the workplace is where the major part of a day is spent, often involving long hours of computer usage. A comfortable workstation can not only maintain good health but also boost productivity. Proper office ergonomics includes good desk posture, proper spacing from equipment and correct chair height and distance from desk – all important parameters for those who sit behind a desk for long hours.
- Chair – Chair height must be adjusted so that feet rest comfortably on the floor and knees are at level with hips. A cushion can be placed behind to offer support between the lower back and chair.
- Footrest – In case the chair is too high, a footrest or small stool can be placed below to rest feet.
- Desk – According to Mayoclinic.com, a desk’s measurement should be 19 inches deep, 30 inches wide and 34 inches high (can vary with height). There should be enough space to accommodate legs, knees and thighs below the desk.
- Monitor – The computer monitor should be placed directly in front of the body, at about 18 to 28 inches away from the chair (arm’s length). The monitor’s top should be slightly below eye level, and surrounding lights must be adjusted to prevent any glare from the screen.
- Mouse – The computer’s mouse should be within easy reach from the keyboard.
- Posture – The body should be in the centre, facing the monitor and keyboard. Correct sitting posture should be followed, and forearms can be kept level or slightly tilted upwards.
- Wrists – When typing on the keyboard, wrists should be in a straight, natural position – neither bent up, down or to the side. Using a wrist rest can minimise strain on the wrist.
- Desk objects – Telephone and other utilities like stationary should be placed at an easy distance on the desk, so it can be reached comfortably without stretching too far or getting up
The correct posture might feel stiff at first for those who are not accustomed to the straight posture. The key lies in practising the correct posture at all times, and make efforts to correct the posture if caught slouching or slumping.
Posture can be improved at any age, and stretching and core strengthening exercises can prove useful too.
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