Your Mother Was Right After All !
"You look like an old man!", "Sit up straight!"
At some point we've all heard those phrases from our mother when we were growing up. With a slight unwillingness we tried to comply with their command having no understanding of why it is so important to keep a straight posture. In fact she is probably not aware of all the implications of poor posture herself. But god knows why, Mom is always right!
What is good posture and the reason it is so important? Posture is about how we position ourselves in respect to the gravitational force. No matter lying down , sitting or standing, gravity exerts a force on our body and this in turn applies stresses on our joints, ligaments and muscles. A good posture allows the distribution of forces through our body so that no one body part is over-stressed. Long term over-stressing a certain body part could cause permanent irreversible damage.
An architect in charge of building has to take laws of gravity and weight distribution into account when designing a building so that it can withstand the elements and test of time. A building with a poor foundation and design is like a body with poor posture and is less tolerant to the strains and stresses that is applied over the course of a lifetime.
The most important thing that doctors look for when them they check for posture problems is the the alignment of the joints in a standing posture. Ideally when viewed from behind, the spine should look straight and the legs should look symmetrical without excessive angulation at the knees or ankles. Where as from the a side view the spine should have a slight S-shaped curve separated by an imaginary line dropped from the top of the head through the center of gravity of the body. This line ideally should pass through the tip of the shoulder, followed by the middle of the hip joint, slightly behind the knee joint and end on the ankle. With this alignment the body weight is perfectly balanced over the spine relieving the joints and requires minimum muscular effort from the person. More importantly, this alignment evenly distributes stresses on the intervertebral discs.
The culprit of modern human posture problems comes from the sitting position with poor postural habits. Most of the time when we are focused on the activity in front of us like driving or using a computer, our head tends to protrude forward. The body has to adjust for the head being slightly forwards and thus the thoracic and lumbar spine tends to round forward as well. This causes the weight of the upper body not being balanced over the spine but instead must be supported by ligaments and muscular efforts. The body is tolerant to short term abuse but in the long term this leads to chronic fatigue and finally even pain in the neck, upper back and waist. Ideally, the S curvature should also be maintained in a sitting position. This is best achieved by sitting all the way back in a straight chair by placing a pillow behind the waist. Ergonomic office chairs and car seats nowadays all come with some sort of lumbar support but still cannot completely cover all use cases. For example using laptop and mobile phones tends to still require the person to significantly bend the neck to get a clear view of the screen.
The true way to completely eliminate bad posture habits is to be very mindful and aware of one's posture at all times. This can be a daunting task but fortunately there are certain products like posture correctors and bracers which can help constantly remind us. Some of posture correctors would put pressure on joints once the body is misaligned, constantly reminding us to revert to the ideal posture. In a way, the posture corrector would act like a portable Mom that would constantly nag on you to maintain a proper posture.