Feb 2014 08

Who cares about posture?

By: Dave Wheeler

The function of the musculoskeletal system

Read some text books and you will find loads of different answers to the question, “What’s the musculoskeletal system for?”

Living in the real world, there’s really only one answer that needs concern us, though - it’s all about force transmission and force dissipation:

  • Force is transmitted through the long bones of the body. Think of the runner – forces of around one and a half times his body-weight are transmitted from his foot through the bones his leg up to his hips and into his spine.
  • Fortunately, this force is dissipated by muscle. The muscles of the legs act as shock-absorbers for the runner so that by the time it reaches his spine, a large part of the force is spent.

Of course, this only works if the bones and muscles are lined up in the right way...



This is called the ‘ideal’ or ‘neutral’ posture. If you’ve served 22 years in the Army or your Grandma nagged you incessantly to stop slouching, then you might be lucky enough to have something close to this ideal posture. The rest of us make do with different ways of standing  - and of absorbing the force of walking, running or jumping.


Four postural tendencies

It’s generally recognised that there are 4 postural tendencies: ideal, Kyphotic-Lordotic, sway-back and flat back.




In later blog posts I’ll write about the problems that might surface with each of these postural tendencies, but for now just have a look at the diagrams and think about how force spiralling up the legs might impact on the knees, hips and lower back of each.

On the whole, our bodies are amazingly adaptive systems and over the years most of us build muscle to compensate for our posture. This means that the joints are protected from the shock of undue force, even though our posture might not be ‘ideal’.

For others, though, particularly if we’re out of the flushes of youth, the training, overuse or abuse that we put our bodies through can begin to take their toll -  our knees, hips or lower back will begin to feel the effect of years of misalignment.


Is my posture a problem?

The golden rule applies: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Even if your posture isn’t ‘ideal’ (and for most of us, it’s not) if you’re not getting pain, then it’s probably not a problem. Some remarkable athletes don’t have a neutral posture – and their performance would be ruined by trying to ‘fix’ them!

That said, for one of the postural tendencies especially, problems can build up unnoticed over a long period of time until they one day come home to roost.

That’s why, when a client comes to see me for the first time, the first 15 minutes is always a consultation – not just form filling, but getting an understanding of that person’s posture. Knowing how you stand, hold yourself, how your hips are aligned, what’s happening with your knees, spine and shoulders are an important part of understanding how to treat you best.


Assessing posture

I use up to 3 methods to assess a client’s posture, though not always all of them:

  1. Visually (using what we used to call “mark 1 eye-ball”)
  2. Manually, with hands-on checking of shoulders and hip alignment
  3. Electronically using an app to analyse photographs of you, generating a PDF report that gets emailed to you.

The aim is to find out how force is being dissipated throughout your body and identify areas of dysfunction. After all remedial massage is about remedying problems – preferably even before they become problems!

As always, if you think I can help, give me a call.