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Posture for a Healthy Back

What is good posture?

Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities. Proper posture:

  • Keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.
  • Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in arthritis.
  • Decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together.
  • Prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions.
  • Prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
  • Prevents strain or overuse problems.
  • Prevents backache and muscular pain.
  • Contributes to a good appearance.

Proper posture requirements

Correct sitting position
  • Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
  • All three normal back curves should be present while sitting. A small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll can be used to help you maintain the normal curves in your back.

    Here's how to find a good sitting position when you're not using a back support or lumbar roll:

    • Sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely.
    • Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds.
    • Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
  • Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
  • Bend your knees at a right angle. Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips. (use a foot rest or stool if necessary). Your legs should not be crossed.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
  • At work, adjust your chair height and work station so you can sit up close to your work and tilt it up at you. Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
  • When sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, don't twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your whole body.
  • When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat of your chair. Stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist. Immediately stretch your back by doing 10 standing backbends.
Correct driving position
  • Use a back support (lumbar roll) at the curve of your back. Your knees should be at the same level or higher than your hips.
  • Move the seat close to the steering wheel to support the curve of your back. The seat should be close enough to allow your knees to bend and your feet to reach the pedals.
Correct lifting position
  • If you must lift objects, do not try to lift objects that are awkward or are heavier than 30 pounds.
  • Before you lift a heavy object, make sure you have firm footing.
  • To pick up an object that is lower than the level of your waist, keep your back straight and bend at your knees and hips. Do not bend forward at the waist with your knees straight.
  • Stand with a wide stance close to the object you are trying to pick up and keep your feet firm on the ground. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift the object using your leg muscles. Straighten your knees in a steady motion. Don't jerk the object up to your body.
  • Stand completely upright without twisting. Always move your feet forward when lifting an object.
  • If you are lifting an object from a table, slide it to the edge to the table so that you can hold it close to your body. Bend your knees so that you are close to the object. Use your legs to lift the object and come to a standing position.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects above waist level.
  • Hold packages close to your body with your arms bent. Keep your stomach muscles tight. Take small steps and go slowly.
  • To lower the object, place your feet as you did to lift, tighten stomach muscles and bend your hips and knees.

What is the best position for sleeping and lying down?

No matter what position you lie in, the pillow should be under your head, but not your shoulders, and should be a thickness that allows your head to be in a normal position.

  • Try to sleep in a position which helps you maintain the curve in your back (such as on your back with a pillow under your knees or a lumbar roll under your lower back; or on your side with your knees slightly bent). Do not sleep on your side with your knees drawn up to your chest. You may want to avoid sleeping on your stomach, especially on a saggy mattress, since this can cause back strain and can be uncomfortable for your neck.
  • Select a firm mattress and box spring set that does not sag. If necessary, place a board under your mattress. You can also place the mattress on the floor temporarily if necessary. If you've always slept on a soft surface, it may be more painful to change to a hard surface. Try to do what's most comfortable for you.
  • Try using a back support (lumbar support) at night to make you more comfortable. A rolled sheet or towel tied around your waist may be helpful.
  • When standing up from the lying position, turn on your side, draw up both knees and swing your legs on the side of the bed. Sit up by pushing yourself up with your hands. Avoid bending forward at your waist.

The above advice will benefit a majority of people with back pain. If any of the above guidelines causes an increase of pain or spreading of pain to the legs, do not continue the activity and seek the advice of a physician or physical therapist.

References

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Spine Conditioning Program. Accessed 5/7/2013

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Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/7/2013…#4485