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Posture Perfect: Standing Up for Your Back

Correct posture -- while standing, sitting, or sleeping -- is important for a healthy, pain-free back.

Good posture keeps your bones in their natural, proper alignment, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). That, in turn, puts less stress on the rest of your body, whether you're moving or at rest.

Bones that are out of line are at the mercy of gravity and put strain on supporting muscles and ligaments. You can cause the same kind of stress if you slouch with your shoulders too far forward or if you stand with more weight on one leg than on the other. Tension headaches, muscle soreness, and back spasms can result.

The APTA states that chronic poor posture can lead to degenerative changes in the spine itself.

Naturally good posture

Some people think of good posture as being rigid and stiff. In fact, it's just the opposite. Good posture is comfortable and natural-looking because it's the normal position. Your body is in balance and at rest.

Standing

Hold your head straight, balanced evenly between your shoulders and with your chin parallel to the floor. Keep shoulders, hips, and knees level and your feet and knees pointed straight ahead. From the side, your ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle should be centered along an imaginary straight line.

Sitting

Hold your head straight and erect, bend your knees and hips at 90-degree angles, and keep your feet flat on the floor. Keep your lower back pressed against the chair.

Sleeping

Lie flat on your back, with a low pillow under your head and neck. If you sleep on your side, keep your ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle along a straight line. Place a small pillow between your knees and try to avoid twisting your spine and pelvis.

Protect your posture

Good posture can even reverse the unhealthy effects of poor posture. The APTA offers these tips to help you achieve and maintain good posture:

  • Exercise regularly. Good aerobic conditioning and weight-bearing exercises are important for a healthy spine and the muscles that support it. Those muscles also benefit from moderate strength training.

  • Develop your flexibility. Include stretches in your regular workouts and avoid sitting too long in one position. Try this simple stretch at your desk. While sitting in your chair, lean forward at the waist as far as you can. Hold for a count of five, then sit up straight. Repeat periodically throughout the day.

  • Fit your workstation. Set your chair height so you can maintain good posture while seated. Adjust the backrest to support your lower spine.

  • Use good body mechanics. Bend your knees while lifting and carry loads close to your body.

  • Control your weight to reduce stress on muscles and maintain good alignment.

Improving your posture can help you look and feel better. So invest in yourself and stand up for your back today!