Something bad has happened to our posture over the past 150 years or so.
Look at these portraits of four U.S. presidents, taken about 50 years apart: Lincoln (1860), Taft (1910), Kennedy (1960), and Obama (2010).
Granted, these portraits are from different angles and were not taken with postural analysis in mind. But just looking from Lincoln to Kennedy you can clearly see the head-forward posture that has become our new norm.
We used to stand our ears over our shoulders, our shoulders over our hips, and our hips over our ankles. When we sat, our shoulders were back and our ears were over our shoulders (look at the Lincoln portrait again).
We have somehow devolved from an upright posture to a head-forward, should-forward, hip-tilting posture that is a likely culprit in our epidemics of low-back pain, thoracic outlet syndrome, and other aches and pains.
I intend to get to the bottom of this problem. I’ll write a lot more about this in future posts, but for now I’ll just list some hunches and hypotheses about what might be going on.
- Fashion – Changes in fashion around the turn of the last century began the decline of our upright posture. It became fashionable to slouch, and garment design encouraged bad posture.
- Design – Furniture became more esthetically driven, resulting in cool-looking but uncomfortable chairs and desks.
- Work – Changing work activities – masses of workers moving from the farm to the factory to then to the office – resulted in new movement patterns that made people more prone to poor posture.
- Culture – New recreational activities – especially television and video and computer games in the late 20th Century – compromise posture (and encourage sedentary lifestyles).
- Proxemics – As more people have moved to cities, incursions on their personal space have prompted people to adopt protective postures.
- Travel – More time in cars, in ever-longer commutes, sitting in poorly designed seats, shortened our hip flexors and otherwise wrecked our posture.
- Nutrition – Could our diet and nutritional habits, which have changed a lot over this same time period, somehow be involved in posture?