Posture Warning: The 4-S’s

When I say posture, most people will sit up taller. The funny thing is that I never trained this behavior in others. Wow! Now that I recognize this super power I was granted by the wisdom of the ages, I have a responsibility to shed more light on what is good posture versus bad posture. So let this serve you as a posture warning: The 4-S’s.

What is good posture? In this article I will cover sitting posture and in a later article I will discuss standing posture. When sitting, the head should be held above the shoulders. From a profile view, the ear should line up with the tip of the shoulder and the shoulder should be above the hips as if there was a an imaginary line drawn straight down. Of course the buttocks should be flat on the seat so the thighs are parallel to the floor. Both the knees and feet should be about hip width and feet touching flat on the floor. The back should be engaged just enough so there is a lower back bend, but not a full arch. And the pelvis will be teetering in a neutral position so the seat bones under the buttocks are pointing down towards the seat.

How does sitting posture go from good to bad? Beginning with S#1, we have SLIDING. There’s a moment when we sit down in a chair when our hips begin to travel forward so they are no long underneath our shoulders. Hence, good posture is disturbed. The butt will slide forward in the chair easier when the surface of the seat we are on and the material of our clothing have little friction between them. For example, wearing fuzzy fleece pajama pants on a leather computer chair will make it very easy to slide the hips forward.

Sliding creates a forward bent spine position with the seat bones no longer underneath the pelvis. The muscles that stabilize the lower back weaken after a few minutes from prolonged stretching. Even the lumbar discs get pinched at the front of the vertebra and squeezes the jelly-like innards backwards and out to the sides along the weaker portion of the discs. If you have a disc problem this can make it worse.

Sliding actually leads us to S#2 which is for SLOUCHING. The arch nemesis of good posture. Or it is the reverse arch nemesis? Basically, slouching adds more forward bending of the spine. The upper and lower back bend as if to make the shape of the letter “C” (viewed from the side). Now even more stress is places along the lower back and middle back. Muscles between the shoulder blades get a tired feeling when slouching too long. Not only does this contribute to back problems, it will affect the neck too!

A well known posture fault in the neck known as Forward Head Posture (FHP) is a side effect of slouching. Most villains have a partner and so do FHP. It’s known as Rounded Shoulder Posture. These create an imbalance in the neck and upper torso that often lead to other problems due to tight muscles, joint compression, and nerve compression. I’ll just list a few of them now so we can get back to the 4-S’s: headaches, neck pain, rotator cuff syndrome, upper cross syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Remember these are the result of slouching which usually begins from sliding in a seat.

Now for S#3: SLUMPING. I look at slumping from two perspectives. First, if a person has fallen asleep on a plane sitting in a tiny seat, there’s a good chance they will slump in their seat. This happens when the head bows down in front of the chest with a rounded neck and rounded back. When this happened to me a few occasions, I would wake up with an uncomfortable feeling in my neck. The second way I look at slumping is when sitting on a low couch with squishy cushions with our legs propped up on a table or ottoman. The reason why I call this slumping is because of a drastic rounded back posture which is accentuated by sitting on the tailbone.

What appears to be a luxurious location to visit one’s well deserved relaxation destination, it can be a trap! Especially if you are prone to sciatica… beware! The nerves in the lower spine get squeezed and pulled. At the same time the muscles and ligaments that support the lower back become stretched like taffy. The properties of these soft tissues will literally stretch out to a point where they loose the integrity to support the vertebra. This sets up the back for a greater risk of injury when it’s least expected.

There are more problems we can have with sitting I hope to share with you another time. It has become a passion for me to identify and correct problems with posture. When good posture is practiced daily, the body feels better overall and strong. Standing has its own problems that need addressing and this leads us to S#4… Continue reading the next article, Posture Warning: A continuation of the 4 S’s.

2 thoughts on “Posture Warning: The 4-S’s

  1. Elizabeth Walker October 15, 2020 — 3:59 pm

    Dr. Tom, This is great information. And, yes, you made me sit up straighter immediately. I feel better already. Looking forward to your next pointers.

    1. Fantastic! A little posture coaching can make a significant difference in how the body feels and functions. Thank you for the comment Elizabeth and enjoy the next article.

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