The Basics of Understanding Posture


The definition of posture is the position in which you hold your body. It can relate to sitting, standing, running, walking, lying, and more. The position of your body can alter the way you use or don’t use muscles. It can make certain muscles more prone to being short, or tight, and others long, or loose. It can also make your joints (interactions between bones) stiffer or looser.

Pain-Free Posture

Pain-free posture can be thought of as the position in which your joints optimally move or rest without pain. Pain-free posture can look different between you and another person. It depends on your history of postural control, shape of your bones, body type, and more. Ultimately, when we think of ideal posture, most people think of the plumb line.

Plumb Line

The plumb line is a reference point for most people’s idea of ideal or “good” posture. The plumb line is an imaginary line from the top of your head to your feet. To find your plumb line, try to align your ears over your shoulders, your shoulders over your middle trunk, and your trunk over your hips. Trying to find your plumb line is not always pain-free posture. When it is not, you may want to consult with a physical therapist to find out why. When trying to find your plumb line, you are being conscious of your posture. 

Conscious Posture

Some of us are better at being conscious with our posture than others. This is due to the interaction of many factors including are musculoskeletal system, central nervous system, vestibular system, and more. Posture can also link to psychological factors such as confidence or even history of trauma. Usually, we tend to revert to spinal flexion (or crouching inward) when we are embarrassed, in pain, or trying to protect ourselves. This can be unconscious.

Posture and Time

Whether you are holding good or bad posture, you want to consider the length of time you are in that position. The longer you are in one position, generally, the more you start to feel different things. Our bodies like to move. When they do not get enough of one movement or another, pain can start to develop. Over time, especially decades, a lack of movement can lead to chronic pain or even permanent abnormal posture. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is true in this sense.

30 Minute Rule

A good rule of thumb to control pain or stiffness related to prolonged posture is to move every 30 minutes with at least 30 seconds of a different activity. These activities can include walking, standing up and stretching, or an activity prescribed by your physical therapist. This rule can prevent chronic pain and very poor posture into your later decades of life.

Sitting vs. Standing at Work

Neither sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time is good for your body. A balance between the two is best. There are various recommendations for how long to sit or stand at work. Changing your position every 30-60 minutes is an excellent option if you can. Greater time periods of sitting or standing are when problems occur. For example, sitting in the morning and standing in the afternoon places you more at risk for pain than alternating the two throughout the entire day. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a great resource to learn more about posture and ergonomics at work.

If you have any questions about posture or for a postural assessment, contact us.