Your Mother Was Right; Good Posture Counts

By Pamela Adams D.C.

Most of us don't connect poor health with poor posture. But think about it, when you're sick or in pain, how do you hold yourself? Head up, chest out, shoulders back? More likely, your shoulders are slumped forward, your back is rounded, and your tailbone is tucked between your legs like an injured animal. This is the body's natural response to pain and illness. Sustaining this defensive stance for any length of time can make it harder for your body to heal.

You're probably not surprised when your foot goes to sleep after you've been sitting for an hour with it tucked underneath you. Nor are you surprised when you try a new activity and suffer from sore muscles the next day. Why, then, is it so hard to imagine that sitting slouched over a desk for eight hours might cause back pain? Or that lying on your back in bed with your head propped up trying to read might contribute to that stiff neck? In all these instances, nerve and blood supply is affected and muscles are over stressed.

The Effect of Gravity on Your Spine
Gravity is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Twenty-four hours a day, gravity bears down on us. By the time we die, most of us are several inches shorter.

Take your spine. When you are lying flat on your back there are 24 pounds of pressure exerted on the spine. Standing erect, the pressure increases to 100 pounds.

When you are sitting bent forward in the slouched position, almost twice the amount of pressure (190 pounds) bears down on the spine. Over the years, the cushions between the vertebrae (called discs) wear down, causing pressure on nerves and, more seriously, on the spinal cord itself.

Between each pair of vertebrae are two small openings through which the left and right spinal nerves exit. Among other things, these nerves empower the muscles and give sensation to the skin. It is through the spinal nerves that you can move and feel temperature, pressure and pain.

When each vertebra is lined up properly (for that matter, when every set of bones in every joint of your body are lined up properly), your body is in harmony with gravity, and functioning the way it was designed to.

What Does Good Posture Look Like?
If you were to drop a plumb line from the ceiling along the gravity axis, it should bisect you perfectly. Turn sideways and ask someone to look at your posture. Ideally your ear should line up with your shoulder bone, which lines up with your hipbone, which lines up with your anklebone. From the front view, your head should be straight, not tilted or turned to one side. Shoulders should be even and hips even.

What? You're not perfect? Don't worry, no one is. However, working toward perfect posture will help you feel better in the long run.

Observe the position of your head relative to the rest of your body. Its position is the best predictor of posture imbalance. Heads weigh in at about 10 to12 pounds - the weight of an average bowling ball.

To use the bowling analogy, when you get ready to bowl, you hold the ball in front of your chest with both hands. The ball doesn't feel too heavy because the bones of your forearms support it. However, when you begin your approach, you have to use your muscles - your biceps and triceps - to hold and swing the ball. Now you can feel the full 12 pounds.

When your head is supported by the bones of your spine, all is well. When it's held up by your muscles (most likely the trapezius), you're causing stress. Holding your head just one inch forward of that plumb line I spoke of puts 30 pounds more pressure on the back of your neck. You're asking those muscles to do more than they're designed to do. Over time, those over-stressed muscles get sore.

Standing Posture Tips

To stand and walk correctly, begin by making sure your toes point forward, not out and not inward.
Next, lengthen the space between your navel and your collarbone by lifting your breastbone up toward the ceiling. This action lets your head naturally come back on top of your spine and gives you a natural curve in your lower back.
Keep your chin parallel with the floor, not tipped up.
When you walk, always put your heel down first, and imagine leading with your heart, not your head.

Sitting Posture Tips

To sit correctly, start by placing your feet flat on the floor. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor and your knees and hips on the same level. Your weight should be over your pelvic bones, sometimes called sit-bones.
When your feet, legs and pelvis are positioned correctly, lift the breastbone again to position your head and shoulders correctly. You should have a pillow to support your lower back only.
Don't lean back. Leaning back stresses your neck and all the muscles of your back. If you must recline, use a reclining chair with proper support for your lower back and neck. That way, you remain in alignment when resting. Don't try to work or read in a reclining position.

Good posture is just one of the tools of a healthier life. Add it to exercise, nutrition, emotional honesty, meditation, and prayer and you will find balance in body, mind and spirit.

Copyright Pamela Adams D.C.
Holistic Health Coach and ergononics expert Dr. Pamela Adams is author of "Dr. Adams' Painless Guide to Computing; How to Use Your Computer Without Hurting Yourself." For the book and your complimentary Self Health Newsletter, visit

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