Well-Being//

Good Posture Isn’t All About Your Back — Here’s What Else You Should Pay Attention to

A physical therapist, spine surgeon, and orthopedic surgeons weigh in.

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

When you think of good posture, what comes to mind? If you say a straight spine, you’re spot on, but there’s much more to it than the backside of your body. We asked four experts to weigh in on the different components of the body that you should focus on each time you do your posture adjustment Microstep. 

Head

A crucial component of having good posture is positioning your head right over your torso. “For every inch forward your head sits in front of your torso, it increases the load carried down the spine by 10 pounds,” Karena Wu, P.T., a clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, tells Thrive. “Stand tall by reaching the crown of your head up toward the ceiling, like a string is coming out of the top of your head.” 

Neck

Similarly, good posture means that your neck is also in line with the rest of your spine, Erin Nance, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, tells Thrive. “This alignment will help your head to look forward. With the increased use of smartphones, the neck is often flexed. That puts increased strain over the muscles by the cervical spine.” 

What’s more, the position of your neck can cause reciprocal changes in other parts of your body, like the lower back, knees, pelvis, and ankles, James Lin, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at The Mount Sinai Health System, tells Thrive. If you want to see this for yourself, Lin suggests tucking your chin to your chest and taking a few steps while looking forward. “Notice your knees bending, your hips extending, and the arch in your lower back in order to compensate for poor neck positioning. That’s why it is important for your neck to be in a neutral position,” he says.   

Arms

People with desk jobs will need to pay close attention to how their arm placement is affecting their posture. “Constantly leaning forward with your arms at a desk will lead to an increased rounding of the upper back, leading to muscle aches and strains of the paraspinal muscles of the back,” Nance says. When you’re not typing away at work, Nance suggests keeping your arms next to your sides. But when you are sitting at your workstation, it’s best to keep your forearms resting on your desk, parallel to your legs below. 

Shoulders 

Good posture also stems from the shoulders. When possible, keep your shoulder blades back and shoulders centered over the torso to maintain a neutral position, Griffin Baum, M.D., a spine surgeon based in New York City, says. “When the shoulders are out of this position, this can place additional stress on the thoracic spine, which, in turn, can result in worsening posture of the neck.”.

Lower Back

While your entire back plays a part in maintaining strong posture, it’s your lower back that has a special role. “Standing up straight involves maintaining the natural sway of the lower back,” Nance explains. If you don’t maintain that alignment and the lower back becomes flat, Baum notes that you could experience hip alignment changes that lead to both hip and knee pain. Ultimately, good posture requires the different parts of your body to work together — not in isolation.  “All of the parts of the spine are connected,” Baum says. “Small changes in one area typically result in changes in the rest of the body as well.”

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