As a fitness professional, you are committed to maintaining and improving the functional independence and physical performance of your clients. Most exercise professionals agree that good posture is essential for attaining these goals. It is often observed in the literature that a skeletal framework and/or spine that is misaligned may result in a cascade of bodily problems, most notably an impediment of the electrochemical messages of the nervous system (since the spine is the pathway for the nervous system to and from the brain) (Edmond et al. 2005). Healthwise this is of paramount concern, since the nervous system is involved in the control and regulation of most bodily system functions.

Here are answers to seven common questions about posture:

1. What is a posture muscle?
Posture muscles help to fix or stabilize a joint; they prevent movement, while other muscles create movement. They are composed of muscle fibers that have a particular capacity for prolonged work. For instance, as a person leans forward slightly to walk up a flight of stairs (the movement), the posture muscles surrounding the spine help to prevent the upper body from falling too far forward.

2. What are the natural curves in a healthy spine?
There are three natural curves in a healthy vertebral spine. The low back (lumbar spine) curves inward (toward the anterior part of the body) and is referred to as a lordotic curve. The middle back (thoracic spine) is curved outward (posterior to the body). The neck (cervical spine) curves slightly forward and thus has a lordotic curve.

3. What is “neutral spine”?
Although the vertebral column has three natural curves, “neutral spine” usually refers to the lumbar region. Neutral spine is a pain-free position of the lumbar spine attained when the pressures in and around the pelvis joint structures are evenly distributed. The pelvis is balanced between its anterior and posterior positions.

4. What is a helpful way to explain the core to clients?
Akuthota and Nadler (2004) describe the core as an anatomical “box” in the mid-section of the body, with the abdominals in the front, the paraspinals next to the spine and the gluteals in the back. The diaphragm is the roof, while the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature are at the bottom. The authors propose that the core functions as a muscular “corset,” working as a unit to stabilize the spine. It is the “foundation” of all limb movement.

5. Is it true that one should not do forward spinal exercises upon waking up?
Yes. Adams, Dolan and Hutton (1987) showed that pressure on the lumbar disks is 300% greater in the first hour after waking than it is later in the day. The authors concluded that the lumbar disks and ligaments are at greater risk of injury in that hour after waking.

6. A number of trainers are now doing neuromuscular control exercises for the spine. What does this mean?
Research shows that exercise programs that are designed for musculoskeletal injury prevention involve neuromuscular control components (Akuthota & Nadler 2004). These programs involve joint stability exercises (where agonist and antagonist muscles are co-contracting), balance training, proprioceptive training (e.g., wobble boards, roller boards, disks, physioballs), plyometric (jump and/or explosive reaction) exercises, and skill-specific training. These programs provide multiple stimuli to improve the body’s neuromuscular control mechanisms.

7. Is poor posture associated with increased falls in older adults?
Yes. Maki, Holliday and Topper (1994) compared the association of different postural positions and the risk of falling in 100 ambulatory elderly people (aged 62–96). The best predictor of future fall risk was deficiency in lateral posture stability. Although balance programs should be designed for all postural sway conditions, exercise professionals are encouraged to emphasize lateral stability exercises in older clients’ fall prevention programs.

For more information and a full reference list, please see “The Perils of Poor Posture” in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.