The question that I get asked frequently in my office is “what is the best posture”? This is when my patients will jokingly roll their eyes because I say the magic words to them, “It DEPENDS”. But it is an indeed very interesting question and I think it deserves a good discussion. So, lets dive into what makes the perfect posture.
Sit up Straight?
You have probably heard someone in your life tell you to “sit up straight” or “don’t slouch”. Maybe you have this idea in your head of a person with their shoulders pulled back, chest up, chin tucked, and low back slightly curved as the perfect posture, right? While these are a good rule of thumb to live life by, it is not really that black and white. Sitting up straight is good because it aligns the spine and allows it to better absorb the stresses of gravity that are pushing down on you. However, it is not easy to maintain for long periods of time. This is because the muscles that are required to hold you in that position fatigue and become sore, leading to pain and discomfort. This could lead to lasting back pain. Now, you may be thinking to yourself that, its like committing a chiropractic crime for me to say anything positive about slouching right? Well research shows that a supported forward flexed posture allows for more fluid & nutrient exchange to the discs of the spine, which leads to healthier discs and an increase in disc height when compared to someone who does not slouch. Pretty interesting right?
Learning the Balance
Research has shown that intradiscal pressure in the spine is 40% higher in sitting than in standing. This shows the importance of not slouching for long periods of time. This will wear on your discs and cause muscle imbalances between the forward flexing muscles getting strong and the backward extending muscles getting weak. Which can lead to back pain or disc problems in the long run. Standing up straight with little movement for excessive periods of time (Example: working at an office that have standing desks) can lead to decreased disc height and a stiff back. You guessed it; this will lead to back pain. If you thought of this by now, I am proud of you, posture is about BALANCE.
The Perfect Posture
The perfect posture is a posture that is free flowing and frequently on the move. The spine thrives and is designed to be moved. When you sit or stand in the same position for too long, there will be negative effects from that. It is all about finding that BALANCE. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to become more self-aware. If you notice you have been sitting/standing in one position for too long, then move. When slouching for a while, sit up straight and extend the spine, pull the shoulder blades down and back, hold this for a while then let it go and slouch for a bit. Get up and stretch the body, flex, and extend the spine every 30-45 minutes.
If you must be stuck sitting for long hours at a time, (Example: flying, riding a bus, car ride, etc.) provide yourself with some lumbar support so your low back has a minor concave curve (backward “C” shape). Try to sit with a 100-to-130-degree angle between your
thighs and torso. This will help offload the discs and keep the spine in a comfortable position so the muscles do not fatigue, but also keep the spine aligned so it can support properly. But even when stuck sitting for long periods of time, you can get creative with your movements, do some side bends, flex, and extend the spine while sitting there. Light stretching is also a wonderful means of movement during these times.
I hope you found this article helpful, I wanted to break the stigma that slouching is always bad, or that there is just one perfect posture. Everyone is built differently so there is never a one size fits all with these kinds of things. The key takeaways here are to move the spine and body. Never sit or stand in one position for long periods of time, try to become more self-aware of your body and make the adjustments as needed. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day! IMPROVE EVERYDAY!
Written by Dr. Cavan O’Brien DC
Automotive Ergonomics: Driver-Vehicle Interaction