Our parents and teachers drilled it into us throughout our adolescence; sit up straight, stand up straight. We heard it over and over and oh how annoying it was! (Ps. thanks for persisting Mum and Dad)
With this unrelenting ‘encouragement’ offensive it is understandable that we now associate good posture with having a perfectly straight spine.
Like other anecdotes we were told in our youth for our own benefit (like don’t talk to strangers) there is often more to the story (telling your kids not to talk to strangers is all well and good but, has that singular instruction helped to create a generation of adults unable to strike up a conversation with a passer by? Getting a wee bit tangential here but ill bring it back…)
The crux of my point is that sometimes, oversimplification leads to problems previously unimagined. This is one of those occasions. It is time for a more sophisticated understanding of this crucial anatomical linchpin.
The fact is, in order to function optimally our spine should bend subtly like a flowing river. Application of the Goldilocks principle is important here (as in many other biomechanical situations); too much or too little (too hot or too cold in her case) is not good.
In the womb, we are in the foetal position –i.e. fully flexed forward. As we learn to lift our head upright to scan our environment we create our first compensatory curve in the neck (cervical spine). Then as we learn to sit and stand we create a second compensatory curve in the lower back (lumbar spine). These curves don’t happen by accident – evolution has been hard at work here for millions of years to get us to this point allowing for the combination of a level gaze and upright bipedal locomotion (otherwise we would still be dragging our knuckles along the savannah).
Everyday I see people out there walking around with flat butts, tucked tails, and straight backs. Are we trying to hide our butts because we think they look big? Are our buns flat because our muscles have taken an extended vacation? Have we been mistakenly been forcing a flat back posture?
Unfortunately, the answer is YES to all of these questions.
Fortunately, the answer/s are simple. Firstly, understand that to have a butt and a slight curve of your lower spine has been dictated by evolution; fighting against more than 2.5 million years of refinement is probably unwise. Secondly, get on up out of that chair and take a walk. Put your hands of your butt and feel if there are muscles working there or the little more depressing and all too common feeling of side-to-side movement and nothing much else. Your butt is designed to work with each step you take– if it isn’t you are not getting the most out of your walking. See you local physiotherapist for a detailed assessment or read my blog post on the 5 most important tips for optimal walking.