By Patricia Staszak, PT

We’ve all been told to stand up straight, throw back our shoulders, hold our head up high. My mother was always on my case about using good posture. But the suggestions we hear often don’t help us improve our posture, and are sometimes even the opposite of a healthy sitting or standing position. What does “good posture” really mean? Most people don’t know. In our clinic, we see a lot of people who think they are standing up straight but who are actually not in a good position; instead, they are putting excessive stress on certain joints.

So what is good posture? Let’s start with a relatively simple explanation in which we describe the alignment of our bones and talk about how our muscles function during quiet sitting or standing.

Restoring normal posture is oftentimes a work in progress—as your joints become more mobile, muscles become stronger, and soft tissues become more flexible, you will gradually be able to restore your normal posture.

Gravity is a force that weighs down on us. To counteract this force, we want to line up our body in as close to a vertical line as possible. If we were to drop a vertical line, also called a plumb line, down the side of our body, it should bisect the ear, pass through the shoulder joint, pass slightly behind the hip joint, and go slightly in front of the knee and ankle joints. Therefore, from the ground up, we want to stand with our feet lined up under our hips, our pelvis centered over our feet, our rib cage stacked directly over the pelvis, and our head centered between our shoulders. We want to be balanced above our base below us, whether in sitting or standing. It is also helpful to try to lengthen the body upward against the vertical force that weighs down on us as we are trying to unload our joints.

Some people are also not physically able to sit or stand up straight just because they are told to do so. If someone has long-standing postural habits that cause some muscles and ligaments to be tight and others to be elongated, normal posture is impossible until those tissues are restored to their normal resting length.

For example, imagine someone whose head protrudes forward when they stand. They will be unable to pull that head back into a perfectly balance position between the shoulders until the deep neck flexors in the front of the neck get stronger and the neck extensors in the back of the neck are lengthened.

In this series, we will review the basic principles of good posture and alignment. We will discuss the 5 Basic Principles of STOTT PILATES®, and we will learn more about the theories that help explain what entails “good posture” to give you an idea of how your body is supposed to counteract gravity to ensure that each joint has the least possible amount of stress. We will apply the above concepts to show how they relate to movement, in both exercise and daily activities. This might sound like a lot of information to take in, but we will continue to explore and further explain these concepts as we continue our Body Wellness series.

Crosby, Ranice W., Diane K. Abeloff, Marjorie B. Gregerman, and William E. Loechel. Ideal Segmental Alignment: Side View. Photograph. Muscles – Testing and Function. By Florence P. Kendall and Elizabeth K. McCreary. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1983. 280. Print.

Sahrman, Shirley. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes. Ed. Kellie White. St. Louis: Mosby, 2002. Print.

“STOTT Pilates RMR-1 Spinal, Pelvic & Scapular Stabilization: Matwork and Reformer.” STOTT Pilates Rehab Instructor Trainer Workshop. STOTT Pilates Corporate Headquarters, Toronto. April 2009. Workshop.

Do you have a question for us? Please take a second to send your inquiries our way and we’ll try to answer them!