posture-ladyThere is a lot of talk about why we have so many more issues with back and neck pain in the developed world compared to the developing world. Is it because we work too many hours and have too much stress? Is it because we do too much sitting and not enough exercise? Is it because we are so specialised that our work is too repetitive? It is likely that those things are all factors, but I would like to add another question. Is our world just too flat?


Everyone has a posture type. When standing with ideal posture, a plumb-line would intersect the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle. Very few people are able to achieve this posture and certainly very few spend all day standing this way. When we were looking for a picture of ideal posture to make a poster last year, we scoured photo websites and saw lots of photos of very fit people. However, in the end we settled on an image of an artificial person, because we just couldn’t find a real person with totally ideal posture. But then again, what if our world was less flat?

We don’t reckon you can do this with posterior lean posture.

We don’t reckon you can do this with posterior lean posture.

So why is a flat world a problem?
“Posterior lean” posture type

“Posterior lean” posture type

Uneven surfaces mean your body has to make constant small adjustments. Flat surfaces turn standing into an ultimately repetitive task. This means we fatigue very quickly and move into a more passive posture where we hang or ‘lean’ against our ligaments – sometimes locking the knees – and we use less muscle activation. The muscles that often sag are the abdominals and the gluteal muscles. Something has to hold us up against gravity, and often it ends up being the back muscles that do the work, resulting in back and neck pain.

What if I’m always moving around?

That’s great! Moving protects you against many of the pitfalls of our flat world. Whatever your standing posture is, you take this muscle activation pattern with you into walking. You will switch on some of the lazy muscles (but not all) and you may not switch off the overactive muscles, like those in your back. Moving can improve your posture, but often doesn’t complete the job.

But I always take the stairs!

That’s also great! Stairs are awesome exercise; they can push you to use your buttock muscles. But stairs, too, are predictable. Health and safety legislation means that they are almost all exactly the same size. Your brain is very clever, and it knows that it can compensate for weak muscles by using other muscles. Because the stairs are predictable the compensation can be very effective.

So – what is the answer?

We can’t turn our world back in time and take away the concrete but we can take every opportunity to walk, run, jump, and play on uneven surfaces.

  • If you’re at the beach, play in the sand; make patterns with your toes, run, walk, and jump.
  • Put your phone away at playgrounds and parks, and play jump run and climb; the kids will love it.
  • Try hiking to get off the beaten (concrete) path.

Realize we are made to move, not to be still. Think about the little movements you make. If you’re interested, stand up and try rocking your weight from the front of your foot to the back or just a little side to side while keeping your body ‘balanced’ and ‘in line’. Think about how your feet react to the movement.

Ideal posture shouldn’t make you work too hard. Thinking stand straight just reproduces your usual posture, but with more effort. Try to stand up really, really straight and see if you can feel what I mean. Does it feel different when you think about being ‘in line’, or ‘balanced’, rather that straight?

See my article on ideal posture for more information, and see a physio for advice on changing your posture, it is very tricky.