Your posture is the natural way you hold your body. It’s usually an automatic adjustment that you might not notice, but being more aware of your posture throughout your day can help you support your spine better. Everyone’s posture (just like their bodies) is unique.

Protecting your spine’s natural curves is the best way to maintain good posture.
Most people assume their posture is worse than it actually is. Follow these tips to maintain and improve your posture.

What is posture?

Your posture is the natural way you hold your body. It’s the position your body’s in while you’re sitting still and moving.

Your musculoskeletal system maintains your posture. Muscles, ligaments and tendons work with joints throughout your body to control your position at all times. They adjust your body to hold you in a stable, comfortable shape. It’s how you’re able to stay in one place when you’re not moving without sliding out of your chair.

Changes to your posture also make certain movements possible. If your body couldn’t change its shape, you’d be stuck in one position like a mannequin. Bending over to pick up a pen you dropped would be a lot harder if you had to tip your entire body onto the floor to grab it.

Everyone has a unique natural posture, but there are a few general rules you can follow to improve your posture and prevent common issues like back pain.

Types of posture

There are two types of posture:

  • Static posture: Static posture is the way you hold your body when you’re not moving. It’s when you’re standing, sitting or lying down (including sleeping). If someone’s ever scolded you to sit up straight and not slouch, they were (maybe rudely) asking you to adjust your static posture.
  • Dynamic posture: Dynamic posture is how you keep your body stable while you’re moving. Even if you’re not actively thinking about it, your body constantly adjusts itself while you’re running, stretching to reach something or walking up and down the stairs. People who focus on their body position while they’re playing a sport or doing yoga are concentrating on their dynamic posture.

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What is proper posture?

There’s no such thing as perfect or imperfect posture. Everyone’s body is slightly different. Don’t stress about having exactly perfect posture all the time. In fact, some studies have found that commonly considered poor or bad posture has more to do with self-esteem and thinking you look good rather than staying healthy or preventing pain. What that means is, you can be mindful about sitting or moving safely, but try not to worry about it all the time.

Even if there’s not one type of posture that’s best for everyone in every situation, there are still a few general rules you can follow to support your body. The best way to maintain good posture is to protect your spine’s curves.

Your spine naturally has three curves — one in your neck (your cervical spine), the middle of your back (your thoracic spine) and in your lower back (your lumbar spine). These three curves give your spine a shape like a gently curved uppercase S. Your posture shouldn’t be bent or flexed in a way that adds extra curve to any section of your spine.

Your body controls a lot of your posture automatically, but there are a few things you can do to maintain good, healthy posture:

  • Keep your head above your shoulders: Don’t crane your neck back or hang your head heavy in front of yourself.
  • Hold your shoulders above your hips: Picture an imaginary line running from your hips to your shoulders. You want that line to be as straight as possible. That line will aim further off center if you slouch forward or back. If you’re sitting down, try to keep a 90-degree angle (the angle in the corners of a square) between your back and hips.
  • Keep your lower body in a stable position: The best place for your legs and feet depends on if you’re sitting down or standing up. If you’re sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor in front of you with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your ankles separated. If your feet can’t reach the floor, use a footrest so they’re not dangling unsupported. When you’re standing up, keep your feet hip-distance apart. Position your body so most of your weight is on the balls of your feet.

Why is proper posture important?

Having good posture can help you avoid common aches and pains in your back, neck and shoulders. Having a safe dynamic posture (especially when you’re working out or doing physical activity) can help prevent sports injuries.

Maintaining healthy posture can reduce wear and tear on your joints, especially in your spine. Good posture can’t completely prevent joint issues like arthritis, but it can reduce stress on your joints.

How can I improve my posture?

Following the tips above to keep your spine aligned is the best way to maintain good posture, but thinking about your posture too often can make you think it’s bad even when it’s not. There are other ways to improve your posture without constantly worrying about your spine and where it is in relation to the rest of your body.

Some simple ways to improve your posture include:

  • Thinking about your posture in short bursts: Check in on your posture every once in a while, instead of thinking about it constantly. If you’re feeling stiff or sore, take a second to stretch and reset your posture before resuming your activities.
  • Activate your core: Gently squeezing your core muscles (the muscles in and around your abdomen) can naturally straighten your posture and keep your spine in alignment. Again, you can do this every once in a while, without thinking about it all the time. Exhaling air out while you’re lifting something is another way to activate your core and reduce stress on your spine.
  • Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes: Some types of shoes can force your feet and ankles into unnatural positions, which can affect your posture. Make sure your shoes aren’t too tight, and don’t make it uncomfortable to stand or move.
  • Follow a diet and exercise plan that’s healthy for you: Staying active and following a healthy diet can strengthen your muscles, bones and whole body.

What are symptoms of bad posture?

Having a less-than-ideal posture isn’t a health condition or disease, so it doesn’t always cause symptoms. It’s common to have back pain, headaches or feel stiff if you’ve been in one position for a long time without moving. You can prevent some of these issues by improving your posture and staying active, but your posture doesn’t always cause them.

Lots of people feel guilty about not having perfect posture. But studies have found that posture might not directly cause pain as much as many people think. It’s likely that having poor posture is only one factor that leads to pain and other symptoms. Not stretching or being physically active also combine to cause these issues, probably more than just your posture on its own.

Can bad posture cause back pain or headaches?

Your posture can lead to symptoms like back pain and headaches, especially if you spend a long time in one position. Posture can affect:

  • Back pain.
  • Neck pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Your overall flexibility.
  • Your range of motion (how far or comfortably you can move).
  • Your balance.

Visit a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing pain that doesn’t get better on its own in a few weeks. Even if it’s not directly caused by your posture, a provider should examine any new pain, especially if it doesn’t go away or gets worse.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you’re like most people, you might spend a lot of time worrying that you’re not sitting up straight enough, or that your posture is going to cause all sorts of pain and other issues. While it’s true that your posture (how you hold your body) is important to your health, a weekend of slouching down in your chair to binge your favorite TV show isn’t going to wreck your back.

It’s always a good idea to be aware of your posture throughout the day — especially if you sit at a desk or stand on your feet for long periods. Take a break, stretch and change positions. Visit a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing neck, shoulder or back pain. They’ll help you understand what’s causing your symptoms and what you can do to relieve them.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/18/2023.

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