Many of us might have asked this question, or might have been told many different answers. You know what? The answer lies within us, and we just need to listen to our body to find out what posture our spine likes. Our body is designed in an economical way elegantly so that we use the least amount of energy to do the most work. However, being economical does not mean being lazy. It is far from that.
Good spinal posture for supporting body weight
Do you know that our spine is actually in S-shape when viewing from the side? It’s because the spine absorbs the shock every step we walk. The reaction force from these steps transmits from the ground through our trunk to our head, supporting our body weight. Instead of stacking up spinal segments in a straight line like a bamboo pole, our body cleverly aligns the segments in S-shape like the shape of spring to help absorb this loading. S-shape viewing from the back is called scoliosis, which sometimes may need medical attention. But a moderate S-shape viewing from the side is entirely normal. It is necessary and beneficial for our weight-bearing.
Good spinal posture for breathing
Another important reason for the spine to be in moderate S-shape is, it facilitates proper breathing. Every time we inhale, our mid-back spine bends slightly backwards to help pull in air. And when we exhale, the opposite occurs to help expel air. The moderate S-shape gives room to these movements so that we breathe smoothly. Just put your hand on your upper back and feel the movement when you breathe in and out.
How good spinal posture looks like
What is a moderate S-shape for the spine? Well, we don’t need to measure to the degree, see the last paragraph for why. As a general rule, when your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle align in a straight line in standing, you are almost there.
Keeping good spinal posture actively
Most of us are born with this moderate S-shape spine, but maintaining this shape is our job. The moderate S-shape spine does not hold itself up against gravity by itself. Instead, this is done by many muscles, often working in pairs and opposite directions, e.g. abdominal muscles (moving the trunk forward) and back muscles (moving the trunk backwards). When one muscle is weak and its counterpart tight, or when both are weak, this moderate S-shape will be pulled out of shape. Imagine the tents we set up 20 years ago, the relationship between the poles and the strings. When the strings are tied at a balanced tension at all sides of the pole, the pole will stand properly. Maintaining the strength and flexibility at the right amount around the spine is essential in keeping the spine posture proper. Nowadays, many people are talking about core muscles, and maintaining a healthy spinal posture is one of the reasons why we need to activate these muscles.
Keep it and keep it moving
Our body intelligently designs the spine in a moderate S-shape to help us absorb shock and breathe well. Our job is to recognize it and keep our muscles in proper strength and flexibility to maintain this shape so that the spine can work well, not to slouch overly, not to straighten overly. Having said that, we mentioned that we don’t need to measure this posture to the degree, because static posture is not what our spine likes the most, no matter how proper the posture is. Our spine prefers a balance between proper posture and movement. We will talk more about movement in our future blogs. Meantime, enjoy these tips to keep our spine healthy and happy.