Standing Tall – Optimize Your Posture
By: Nhat Tran, MD
Remember when your mother told you to stand up straight and not slouch to any one side? In essence, she was trying to optimize your posture. Our posture depends on many factors, including, of course, the bones (called vertebral bodies) that make up our spine.
We have a total of 33 vertebrae categorized into 5 types, depending on where they are located. The top 7 vertebrae in our neck are called the cervical spine, the next 12 lower vertebrae are called the thoracic spine and the next 5 lower vertebrae are called the lumbar spine. Below the lumbar spine are usually 5 fused vertebrae called the sacrum. Beneath the sacrum are 4 coccygeal bones which form the tailbone.
When viewing the spine from the front towards the back---known as the anterior–posterior or AP view---the spine should be perfectly aligned up and down and should not curve to either side. If the spine does curve to a side, we call this scoliosis. If the curvature is located in the lumbar region, it is called lumbar scoliosis and the thoracic spine is curved, it’s called thoracic scoliosis.
When looking at the spine from the side or lateral view, it is important to realize that there are normal curvatures to the front or to the back of the spine. At the cervical and lumbar regions, the spine naturally curves toward the front. This forward curvature is called lordosis. At the thoracic and sacralcoccygeal regions, the spine naturally curves toward the back and is called kyphosis.
Certain diseases and conditions can cause the spine to lose its normal curvature. When the lordosis or kyphosis curvature becomes extremely exaggerated, this can lead to poor posture. It is important to discuss with your NASS doctors the possible causes of your poor posture since they can be early signs of significant spinal diseases.
Human posture is also affected by elements other than the vertebral bodies.The discs between the vertebral bodies can affect posture, especially when they are dehydrated or have herniated. Ligaments and muscles that are attached to the spine can affect posture, especially if the ligaments are lax or when the muscles are weak. That is why certain disorders affecting the nerves of the spinal muscles can lead to scoliosis or extreme forms of lordosis and kyphosis.
Once again, it is vital that you discuss with your NASS doctors when you have concerns about your posture. Like your mother, NASS doctors want you to stand tall and optimize your posture.