Why is good posture important?
When it comes to posture, your mother did know best. Her reminders to stand up straight and stop slouching were good advice.
Your spine is strong and stable when you practice healthy posture. But when you slouch or stoop, your muscles and ligaments strain to keep you balanced — which can lead to back pain, headaches and other problems.
Your spine's curves
A healthy back has three natural curves:
- An inward or forward curve at the neck (cervical curve)
- An outward or backward curve at the upper back (thoracic curve)
- An inward curve at the lower back (lumbar curve)
Good posture helps maintain these natural curves, while poor posture does the opposite — which can stress or pull muscles and cause pain.
Good standing posture
When standing, keep these tips in mind:
- Stand straight and tall with your shoulders back.
- Keep your head level and in line with your body.
- Pull in your abdomen.
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Don't lock your knees.
- Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.
- Let your hands hang naturally at your sides.
If you have to stand for long periods of time, shift your weight from your toes to your heels or from one foot to the other.
Take the wall test
To test your standing posture, take the wall test. Stand with your head, shoulder blades and buttocks touching a wall, and have your heels about 2 to 4 inches (about 5 to 10 centimeters) away from the wall. Reach back and slide your hand behind the curve in your lower back, with your palm flat against the wall.
Ideally, you'll feel about one hand's thickness of space between your back and the wall. If there's too much space, tighten your abdominal muscles to flatten the curve in your back. If there's too little space, arch your back so that your hand fits comfortably behind you. Walk away from the wall while maintaining this posture. Keep it up throughout your daily activities.
Good sitting posture
When seated, keep these tips in mind:
- Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Don't cross your legs. Your ankles should be in front of your knees. Keep a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat.
- If the chair doesn't support your lower back's curve, place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back.
- Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling, and tuck your chin in slightly.
- Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed — not elevated, rounded or pulled backward.
Check out your reflection
To see if you're keeping your shoulders straight, stand in front of a mirror or ask someone else to evaluate your shoulder position. Aim to keep your shoulders in the same position as shown in the image on the left.
It all adds up
Although good posture should be natural, you might feel wooden or stiff at first if you've forgotten the sensation of sitting and standing up straight. The key is to practice good posture all the time. You can make improvements at any age. Stretching and core strengthening exercises can help, too.