Health and Wellbeing
An Occupational Therapist’s Guide to Good Posture
Posture can be complex but ultimately it’s about how we hold our own body in position, whether we are paying it specific attention or not. Posture is completely individual and influenced by body composition, the environment, the task we are completing and even our mood. For example, sitting in an older chair with little support will have a negative impact on our postural alignment and comfort, whereas a chair with adequate support and at the right height for the person can offer support, comfort, and effective spinal alignment.
Having effective posture is key to functional performance and our ability to carry out daily occupations. It can help to prevent injury and protect other parts of our bodies, particularly the spine, neck, shoulders and back. If we think about someone who may be hunched over or leant forward, this can squash the abdomen, reducing space for internal organs and restrict breathing or digestion. This position also moves our centre of gravity forward which can reduce stability and increase the risk of trips and falls. Essentially, while we may think posture is just about how we stand or sit, it affects most aspects of our lives.
Our postural needs change throughout the day as fluid in the joints reduces and we become shorter. That’s why we need to adjust the rear-view mirror in the car at the end of the day!
What Does Good Posture Look and Feel Like?
Our spine is made up of 33 stacked vertebrae, divided into sections known as the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. When looking at a healthy spine you will notice three natural curves. Someone with poor posture or a spinal condition such as scoliosis or kyphosis may see an exaggeration of these natural curves. Most commonly, this happens at the cervical or thoracic spine.
Good posture supports these natural curves and an ‘anatomically neutral’ position if the individual's skeleton allows it.
How to Check Your Own Posture
- In a seated position, sit back with your knees at the front edge of the seat.
- Place both feet flat on the floor hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on your thighs, with your chin parallel to the floor and pull your shoulders back.
- Stand with your back against a wall and arms by your side.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor, hip distance apart with the heels of your feet against the wall.
- Be mindful of your shoulder blades against the wall and you should be able to notice a natural curve in the lumbar spine.
Pay attention to your body and how it feels in these positions. Then ask yourself the following questions.
- Does it feel the same on both sides?
- Do you feel any tightness or stiffness?
- Are you stable and comfortable?
- Do you notice a difference in this position to that of how you would normally sit or stand?
If you do notice a difference, this may be an indication of ineffective posture, however, there are some steps you can take to change this.
How Can You Maintain and Improve Your Posture?
Regular movement is key to maintaining effective posture as well as overall mobility. For example, this could be not sitting or standing for prolonged periods or staying in the same static position.
Light exercises such as walking and gentle movement can reduce muscle stiffness and increase the range of movement in the joints.
Work on Spine Mobilisation
Simple exercises like shoulder rotations and mobilisation of the spine can also strengthen the muscles of the upper back and loosen any tightness in the chest, shoulders, and lumbar region.
Support Your Posture With Oak Tree Mobility
There are a variety of furniture and lifestyle products that can support effective posture and comfort. Critically, armchairs with arms, a high back and a height that allows both feet to reach flat on the floor can also be supportive for those who may be sitting for long periods of time. Rise and recline chairs that are measured for you specifically are most likely to ensure that your individual postural needs can be met now and in the long term.