While good posture naturally projects an image of confidence and health, attractiveness and power (barring the current U.S. president, can you think of many celebrities or politicians who slouch?), perhaps a more crucial benefit is injury prevention. When proper alignment of the spine is not maintained, stress increases on the body’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint structures. Aside from those injuries caused by traumatic accidents, a large proportion of lower back pain is due to poor posture, which over time causes repetitive damage and strain. Learning how to find correct posture and strengthening the muscles which support the trunk can help alleviate and prevent lower back soreness or injury by reducing compression on the spinal column and decreasing strain on the back muscles.
The key to good posture is finding your “neutral spine.” This is not to say that you must hold the spine in this static position all the time. The body is healthiest when it can remain in motion, keeping the joints mobile and muscles flexible. It is in those moments, however, when we are sitting or standing for long periods that the stress on our spine can build up. Learning to maintain neutral spine at these times will prevent much of the damage that continuous slouching or hunching over will cause.
What exactly is neutral spine? Most simply stated, it is the natural existing curvature of your spine, the position that creates the least stress on the intervertebral discs and the surrounding musculature. Maintaining the natural curves in your spine—a balance halfway between rounding and arching your back—may actually produce a measurable increase in height as the spine shifts from a compressed position into an elongated one.
In addition, strong, stable torso muscles encourage increased mobility in the hip and shoulder joints. For example, if the muscles connecting your pelvis to the rest of your trunk are strong enough to maintain stability while moving your legs, you will then be able to isolate the hip joint and increase its range of motion most effectively.
My next post will explain how to find neutral spine and offer cues to bring your body into correct alignment while performing any exercise, not just those in Balance on the Ball.