At some point in your life, you have more than likely been told to sit or stand up straight.
While this can be annoying or frustrating feedback to receive, it is not always unwarranted — bad posture can have several negative effects on the body and can sometimes indicate underlying health conditions.
In this article, we will discuss the ins and outs of posture, including the different types of posture, causes of bad posture, and the potential effects bad posture can produce.
Keep reading to learn all about maintaining good bodily alignment!
What is Posture?
The term posture is used to describe the position of a person’s body at any given moment.
While there are several different types of posture, all types fit into two main categories:
- Static: Static posture refers to the position of a person’s body when they are not moving, such as when sitting, standing still, or sleeping.
- Dynamic: Dynamic posture refers to how a person holds their body in or out of alignment when moving, particularly when walking, running, or bending over.
It is important to note the difference between static and dynamic posture, as it is entirely possible for a person to have good static posture but poor dynamic posture (or vice versa). Likewise, static and dynamic posture can affect each other, making it key to pay attention to both.
Although posture can involve multiple parts of the body, the spine plays the most vital role in whether a person’s posture can be considered good or bad.
What is Good Posture?
Good posture — sometimes called healthy posture — is when your body is in proper alignment.
As we have covered, posture can differ depending on whether a person is in a static position or participating in a dynamic movement. In general, however, good posture is defined as keeping your head above your shoulders and the top of your shoulders inline above your hips.
Keeping your head, shoulders, and hips aligned allows your spine to maintain a neutral position that does not cause excessive stress on your muscles, joints, or ligaments.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the specifics for good static posture vs. good dynamic posture:
Good Static Posture
The three main positions when posture can be described as static are sitting, standing, or laying down to sleep. With each of these positions, good posture involves the alignment of the head, shoulders, and hips, but with some slight differences.
Here is a breakdown of good static posture for different positions:
- Standing: When standing still, along with having your hips, shoulders, and head aligned, you should also have your feet positioned directly below your hips. Your arms and legs should remain in a relaxed position, with a slight bend in the knees to ensure proper blood flow — locking the knees can restrict blood flow and cause excessive pressure on the knee joint and meniscus.
- Sitting: In a sitting position, your back should be kept straight, with your shoulders rolled back. Your hips should be pushed to the back of the seat, aligned with the tops of your shoulders. The back has a natural curve that will prevent the back from fully touching the back of a seat in the lower back area. A slight gap should be kept between the back of the knees and the edge of the seat, and both feet should be flat on the floor.
- Laying Down: Good posture while laying down mainly has to do with not twisting your body out of alignment. Ideally, you should lay on your back with a pillow supporting both your head and the back of your neck, so that your head can remain in line with your hips. Since your back has a natural curve towards the lower back, adding a smaller pillow to support your lower back can also be helpful if suffering with back pain and on a soft mattress. If you prefer sleeping in a sideways position, make sure you are not twisting at the waist.
Good Dynamic Posture
For dynamic posture, the three main movements to pay attention to are walking, running, and bending over. Since you are moving, it can be a little more difficult to keep everything perfectly aligned — the key is to practice and remain mindful of your body positioning.
Here is a breakdown of good dynamic posture for the three main movements:
- Walking: As you walk, try to make yourself as tall as you comfortably can, avoiding an unnatural inward or outward bend in your back. Keep your core engaged, as this helps you to keep your hips in a neutral position. Allow your arms to have a slight swing, moving one arm forward as the opposite leg moves backward — this helps you to keep your balance.
- Running: Many of the requirements for good running posture are the same as walking. However, there are some things to be mindful of that go overlooked as you focus on running. Make sure to keep your head and chest up, with your shoulders rolled back. Try not to twist your hips or torso as much as possible, and keep your arms from crossing the midline of your body. As you run, your forward leg’s thigh should be close to parallel to the ground at its peak height, and your feet should land as flat as possible when hitting the ground.
- Bending Over: For many people who are not familiar with proper bending posture, the instinct is often to bend at the waist — however, this movement puts undue stress on the spine. Instead, you should try to bend from the hips, keeping your back straight and your neck, shoulders, and head in as straight a line as possible connecting back to your hips. Try to look forward and keep your chest and chin up. If you are picking something up, bend the knees to lower your body and engage your legs and glutes to help you lift the item without putting pressure on your back and spine.
What are the Benefits of Having Good Posture?
Good posture has many benefits for your health. When you practice good posture, it can not only be a confidence booster but also have long-lasting positive effects on your physical well-being.
According to Harvard Health, some of the key advantages include:
- Improved balance
- Prevention of injuries
- Greater core strength
- Fewer headaches
- Increased flexibility
- Better overall mobility
What is Poor Posture?
The most basic definition of poor posture is a body position that takes the spine out of its natural alignment. Oftentimes, poor posture involves over-exaggerated curves in the back and legs, a drooping head, and rounded shoulders.
According to Healthline, poor posture can be categorized into 4 different types:
- Kyphosis: Kyphosis is a type of posture characterized by an exaggerated curve in the upper back, typically caused by the shoulders being rounded too far forward. The term “hunchback” is often associated with this type of posture, though it should be noted that this term is often regarded as offensive.
- Swayback: Swayback posture is when the curve in the middle to the lower back is too dramatic, often caused by a forward tilt in the hips and pelvis. The telltale sign of this type of posture is when a person looks like they are leaning back while standing, with their stomach and buttocks protruding more than normal.
- Flatback: Flatback is a type of posture in which a person stands too straight, causing the natural curves in their spine and back to disappear. This results in a person appearing stooped forward, with the shoulders in a forward position as well. While all types of poor posture can affect mobility and endurance, this position especially can make it difficult to stand for long periods.
- Forward Head: Forward head posture is a type of posture where your neck and head fall out of alignment with your shoulders, spine, and hips. In this posture, your head is tilted forward and your neck will often have an unnatural curve.
What Causes Bad Posture?
There are many potential causes behind bad posture, from a lack of body mindfulness to underlying health conditions.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of bad posture:
- Muscle Weakness: For anyone who does not regularly exercise and/or practice good posture, maintaining good posture for longer than a few minutes can be difficult. This is because good posture engages several different muscle groups, making it hard to keep a good level of stability and endurance in good posture positions.
- Lack of Mindfulness: Along with not practicing good posture, many people are simply unaware of how their body is aligned throughout the day. This lack of mindfulness makes it easy to fall into slouching or over-extended positions that are considered to be poor posture.
- Injury: If a person becomes injured, soreness or damage to the muscles, joints, or ligaments can prevent them from maintaining good posture. In cases of injury, some level of healthcare intervention is likely necessary, as well as periods of rest. For anyone who exercises regularly, it is important to take a break from strenuous workouts while your body heals to prevent further or more permanent damage.
- Occupation/Hobbies: Bad posture is commonly associated with people who sit at desks for long periods. This is because sitting at a desk can be hard on the body, causing people to slouch forward or downward, causing unnatural bends in the neck and back. Common occupations and hobbies associated with this include computer desk jobs, gaming, and phone or call-center jobs.
- Underlying Conditions: In some cases, a person may experience bad posture due to an underlying health condition, such as osteoarthritis or scoliosis. If you suspect an underlying condition may be causing your bad posture, make sure to get in touch with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
What are the Effects of Poor Posture
Poor posture can have many negative effects on the body, with the most common being back and neck pain. However, there are several additional negative effects of bad posture that are less well-known by the general public, including:
- A lack of balance
- Stress headaches
- Poor sleep quality
- Breathing problems
- Disrupted digestion
- Disrupted blood flow and poor circulation
- Spinal dysfunction
- Joint degeneration
If left unaddressed for many years, bad posture can even result in diminished mobility and abnormalities to the spine muscles and bones.
Final Thoughts: How to Fix Bad Posture
For anyone with bad posture, all hope is not lost.
One of the most important steps to fixing bad posture is simply to be more mindful of how your body is positioned. If you sit for long hours of the day, setting reminders to check your sitting position and adjust accordingly can be incredibly helpful.
Additionally, it is essential to have patience with yourself and remain persistent. Good posture does not come overnight and setting unrealistic expectations can ultimately result in more unwanted stress.
If you are experiencing moderate to severe back pain or any other unwanted symptoms — or if you simply want to take the utmost preventative measures to ensure your posture does not lead to such symptoms — visiting a chiropractor or your primary care provider can be a great first step to take.