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Good vs. Bad Posture - How to Straighten Up

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT April 20, 2020 0 Comments

woman with bad Posture

Knowing the difference between good posture and bad posture isn’t always easy. Posture is more than looking poised or confident, it is about how you stand, sit, walk, sleep, and how well your body functions overall. Good posture will promote body alignment, enhance breathing, promote circulation, and eliminate back pain. Keep reading to find out more about posture and how to improve it.

Posture and Why It’s Important

Posture is your body position when sitting, standing, and walking. Correct body posture encourages even distribution of weight, decreases joint discomfort and degeneration, and boosts strong muscles and ligaments.

Benefits of Good Posture

Upright posture is vital not only to your body image and confidence, but also your health in general.

  • Body Alignment

    A good posture will keep your bones and joints in the right alignment and decrease the pressure off your back and shoulders.

  • Promotes Proper Breathing

    Slouching can shorten certain muscles, overstretch other muscles, affect lung capacity, and obstruct your breathing. By improving your body posture, you can add a real boost to cardiovascular health.

  • Eliminates Back Pain

    Poor body position will affect your back and abdominal muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and put too much pressure on your back due to imbalances and poor biomechanics.

Correct Posture When Standing

A good standing posture is where the shoulder, hips, knee, and ankles are in alignment. When standing sideways, if you were to draw a straight line down your “center” (called a plumb line) it should bisect the head and knees, be just in front of the shoulders and ankles, and fall right behind the hips.

Checking Your Posture

To determine your standing body curve, stand straight with your upper back, butt, shoulders, and back of the head against the wall with the heel about six inches away (it's okay there is a slight arch in the low back). If you struggle to attain the alignment, it is an indication your spine is misaligned or curved.

The cues for good standing posture include:

  • Chin tucked so that your line of vision is parallel with the floor
  • Head aligned on top of the shoulders 
  • Shoulders aligned with hips and ankles
  • Weight evenly distributed in both feet

If you want to improve your posture, see our full guide here.

Sitting Posture

A proper sitting posture is achieved when your hips, elbows, and knees are bent at 90 degrees and the feet are flat on the floor.  The bottom of the seat should be parallel with the floor and lumbar spine supported. Sitting down for extended periods can affect your spine alignment, circulation, and cause back pain due to fatigue and lack of movement. 

It is challenging to maintain a great position all the time, so take a break often to stretch and exercise. You can carry stretch straps for a portable and effective workout.

What Causes Bad Posture

Bad posture is not abrupt but occurs over the course of time, and it may be as a result of improper body positioning, disease, injury, and genetics. Determining the underlying cause is crucial in choosing a holistic treatment.

Some of the causes of bad posture include:

  • Back Injury

    After an injury, your muscles may spasm to protect the affected area. However, extended muscle spasms can weaken the back, limit movement and cause pain, and eventually affect your posture due to perfuse imbalances.

  • Foot Alignment

    While only a small part of the body, the truth is that misaligned feet can affect the back, neck, and shoulders. Be sure to correct gait imbalances and other foot conditions as they pop up to ensure full-body health.  The entire body is amazingly connected so do your best to care for it as a whole.

  • Age

    Bone and muscle degeneration increase with age and can heighten the risk of spinal  misalignment. Chronic alignment issues can increase your risk for further complications like spinal stenosis (the narrowing of the spinal cord), pain, nerve damage, and an overall poor quality of life.

  • Computer Use

    Extended use of computers can weaken your back muscles and cause rounded shoulders if you don’t pay close attention to your posture and take frequent breaks. Leaning forward and sitting for long periods can also cause fatigue, joint stiffness, and reduce blood circulation to your bones, tendons, ligaments.

  • Fashion

    High heels, unsupportive bras, worn-out shoes, and heavy backpacks will not only worsen your posture but can lead to severe back pain and other chronic joint issues.

Types of Bad Posture

A variety of posture treatments are available, but before getting started on treatment you need to know what type of posture you have. Learn about the different varieties below:

  • Kyphosis

    Kyphosis is the forward rounding of your spine, and it’s common in senior women. It is most prominent in the thoracic or mid-back.  It can be caused by extended slouching, too much sitting, genetics, broken vertebrae, osteoporosis, disk degeneration, congenital disabilities, and sometimes cancer.

    Kyphosis is asymptomatic, but you can experience chronic back pain, headaches, and poor biomechanics of the entire upper body.

  • Flatback

    Flatback occurs when your spine loses its natural curve and becomes flat. This posture may develop because of degenerative disc diseases, compression fractures, lumbar post-laminectomy syndrome, or arthritis.  Ironically, this can also be a symptom of anyone trying to keep “good posture” without taking into account the spine’s natural curves.

  • Swayback

    We all have a natural curve of the spine. But when the curve is exaggerated, it can cause hyperlordosis of the low back, which is common in obese and pregnant women. Swayback is ultimately characterized by the forward position of the hips to balance the spine position in standing.

  • Forward Head Posture

    When the chin juts forward it results in hyperextension of the upper cervical spine and overflexion of the lower cervical spine.  Forward head posture is caused by sleeping with too many pillows as well as slouching or fatigue with sitting.

Signs of Bad Posture

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, bad posture presents a range of visible signs including potbelly, rounded shoulders, and bent knees when walking and standing. Learn to identify all the signs and symptoms of bad posture below.

  • Compression of Lungs and Diaphragm

    Kyphosis can decrease lung capacity, obstruct their function, and interfere with your breathing. Furthermore, improper posture weakens your abdominal muscles and constricts the movement of the diaphragm, affecting your digestion.

    Get more information about poor digestion and how to manage it.

  • Limited Physical Function

    Weakened back muscles can affect your walking, ability to stand, and also cause pain when you lie down. Decreased mobility can lead to further problems with posture.

  • Depression

    Forward head posture affects stress, mood, memory, depression, and at times can increase the risk of asthma and heart disease.

Practicing Good Posture

Before you engage in any of the posture corrector treatments, assess your body alignment to know the type and severity of your posture. If in doubt, speak to a chiropractor, physical therapist or physician, especially if you have an underlying medical condition like scoliosis. Awareness of your posture and understanding how it affects your body is the first step in optimizing your health and spine alignment.

Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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