This is a picture of our wedding in 2010. You might see a beautiful bride and groom, the sun reflecting off the islands in the distance, and the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. We will come back to this photo at the end of our post and I’ll show you what I see in addition to those things…
When I was in physical therapy school, a large part of our training was learning to identify differences in people’s postures. We were told to sit at the airport and just watch people to see how they stand, walk and lift. A little voyeuristic, maybe, but also really informative! Have you ever taken the time to pay attention to how YOU stand? Your posture can have a huge effect on your body in general, including how you look and how you feel. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up!
1) Look down at your feet the next time you are standing in line somewhere. You should have both feet directly under your hip joints (that is those bony points in the front of your hips). Both feet should be facing straight forward and your knees should be facing forward over your feet. We tend to have our feet turned in or out, or prop all our weight on one leg while we balance a kid on one hip and a coffee in the other hand! If you can get your feet and legs aligned, the rest of the body will have an easier time falling into place.
2) Your knees should never be locked. Make sure you have “soft” knees. They don’t have to be bent, but make sure they aren’t hyperextended and locked out. Also make sure your knees aren’t bowed out (genu varus) or “knock kneed” (genu valgum). Knees under hips, and feet under knees.
3) Stand sideways next to a mirror and check out your low back. Is it really curved or really flat or somewhere in between? You want a normal natural curve in your low back without feeling like you are squeezing your buns or locking your knees. Think of always gently pulling your belly button into your spine – this will give you a nice sense of core stabilization and give your back some extra support! You want to remind your abdominal muscles to do their job, which is act as a natural back support.
4) Shoulders down away from your ears. This is easier said than done for those who hold tension in their shoulders, but it’s imperative you let them relax gently in their sockets. Try this – lift your shoulders up towards your ears as high as you can. Now just let them relax back and down. This is where they should be living and hanging out. And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop holding the phone in between your ear and shoulder! Your neck doesn’t like this.
5) While you are looking in that mirror sideways, check out your head. One of the biggest posture problems we see in orthopedic medicine is what we call “forward head rounded shoulders”. That is the posture we get from hunching over computers, books and steering wheels all day. In the mirror in a perfect world you should see your ear directly over your shoulder and a nice long back of your neck. Try to pull your chin gently into your throat while feeling like a string is pulling you up towards the ceilling. If you have a pony tail, feel like someone is pulling that up. You should automatically feel 2 inches taller this way! (It can be understandably difficult to see your head position while looking sideways in a mirror :). Have someone take a quick picture of you from the back and side when standing so you can really see how you stand.)
Ok, so let’s go back to that wedding photo for a second and critique somebody’s (ehem…) posture:
There is too much lordosis (curvature) in the low back and my abs aren’t engaged – I’m just hanging out with my hips pushed forward (and probably knees locked). My shoulders are rounding forward and my head is too far forward. Seeing pictures like this makes me want to yell “stand up straight, girl!” Then I realize it’s a great lesson and reminder on always checking my posture.
Proper posture is more than just a good discipline. It gives your muscles and bones a chance to work most effectively and efficiently and in perfect relationship with one another. It keeps muscles from getting too long or too short. It gives us better muscle control and balance. By standing taller and leaner you might actually start to feel more confident! (oh, and you look better in your wedding photos). So don’t avoid those mirrors this week – stare straight ahead and know you are worth standing up taller for!