What’s the Most Important Benefit of Maintaining an “Arc” of Neutral Posture?

by | Nov 16, 2023 | Physical Therapy

In the whirlwind of our daily routines, we seldom consider the pivotal question: “What’s the most important benefit of maintaining a neutral posture?” Whether we’re glued to a desk, standing in line, or catching those precious moments of sleep, our ability to experience a dynamic neutral—the way we position our bodies—holds the key to our overall health. Neutral is not just one position; it is an arc or range within a position, whether we are moving or still in one place.

A neutral position is that “sweet spot” or Goldilocks Principle in which we are dynamically balanced between forward and backward, up and down, and side to side without using excessive muscular contraction or strain. In this blog, we will delve into the anatomy of the spine, explore the benefits of adopting a neutral posture as a “range or arc” versus a specific “spot,” and provide practical tips on how to find and help the nervous system learn neutral so that you maintain the best optimal alignment for whatever situation you find yourself in.

What is the Anatomy of Your Spine?

The spinal column, a crucial component of our musculoskeletal system, is more than a vertical rod or its straight sticklike appearance is deceiving. Its unique S-shape of in-curves and out-curves is formed by 33 vertebrae stacked and interlinked by joints and cushioned by discs. The curves of the spine are meant to move and change in relationship to each other. When in neural and aligned—the inward curve near the neck (cervical spine), the outward curve at the upper back (thoracic spine), and the inward curve at the lower back (lumbar spine), outward curve of the base of the spine (sacrum) allows us the sweet sensation of feeling stacked, upright and balanced without a lot of muscular tension, tightness or strain. 

Unfortunately, the passage of time, injuries, illness, sedentary lifestyles and habits, and the daily pressures of body weight, gravity, and movement contribute to changes in the S-shape of the vertebrae. The nervous system, via the musculoskeletal and fascia systems, changes how the vertebrae move, altering their original balanced or neutral position during rest and function. These change, or “new neutral” leads to degeneration, often developing spine conditions such as degenerative disc, joint disease, and osteoarthritis.

While these factors may seem “age-related” and inevitable, the reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Exploring your best neutral posture is a powerful tool in mitigating degenerative effects. Consciously restoring a range or arc within a neutral position ensures that the pressures exerted on the spine are evenly distributed, preventing excessive force on any specific area and spinal level. The outcome of discovering and practicing an arc within a neutral posture naturally results in the following:

  • Feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Pelvis neither tilted too far forward nor backward.
  • Abdominal area or stomach slightly withdraws inward while the chest or breastbone lifts.
  • Torso stacks upright and shoulders effortlessly draw back, releasing their forward drift and roundedness.
  • Shoulder blades hang or stack over the upper back ribs.
  • Head orientates the eyes toward a horizon line, allowing the length of the chin to be level with the ground. 

Extending this arc of neutral posture to activities like sitting, walking, and sleeping is crucial.

What’s the Most Important Benefit of Finding an Arc Within Your Neutral Posture?

Adopting an arc of neutral posture is not merely about avoiding future discomfort or pain; it’s a proactive step toward overall well-being. When the body has micromovement options within an arc of a neutral posture, stress and strain on surrounding muscles and supporting structures are minimized. This reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders and joint injuries associated with twisting, lifting, and compression.

Beyond injury prevention, the nervous system easily uses this arc to foster a myriad of benefits. An arc of neutral provides the best alignment of skeletal and fascial “holes” or pathways that allow the flow of nerve signals, blood, and lymphatic vessels to pass through without getting caught or pinched. This opening improves blood flow to the brain, ensuring optimal cognitive function. A better postural alignment means our organs are more supported. For instance, lung expansion is enhanced, promoting better respiratory health. The nervous system’s ability to balance our body and stability improve, reducing the risk of falls and accidents. Individuals prioritizing neutral posture also report increased energy levels and enhanced endurance, making everyday tasks more manageable.

How to Find Your Arc of Neutral Position

The nervous system in always in a process of balance, or a better word would be, counterbalance. From a musculoskeletal perspective, it is a series of coordinated counterbalances or tetter-totter images that are key to reaping the benefits of an arc of neutral posture. Fortunately, finding the natural arc of your neutral position is a straightforward process, but breaking old habits may require some effort. Setting a timer every 20-30 minutes during the initial days of practicing micro-adjustments of these specific areas can be a helpful reminder that neutral posture is a not fixed point but a range of small data point.


  •    Foot Sliding – Feet Flat on the Floor, Knees hip-width apart: Keep thighs parallel to each other and slide one foot at a time forward and back. Can the knee and ankle bend and unbend simultaneously? Bring your attention to these two joints. Coordinate their movement. Repeat several times until you find a place where the whole foot rests directly below the knee. Stop. Repeat the process on the other side.

Now, keeping the knees stacked over their perspective foot, slide the stack of the right foot and knee slightly to the right, letting the right thigh move away from the left, opening the space between the legs. Reverse the direction, returning to the left. Ensure that the knee is not leading the motion but that the knee and the foot are moving at the same rate, stacked and as one unit. Repeat several times, moving the stacked leg in and out. Discover the role the left stacked foot and knee have in helping you make the right moving leg feel lighter and smoother. Eventually, you arrive at a stationary or resting position where the right lower leg feels supported by the floor, with the whole foot resting directly below the knee. This is your neutral for today. 

“Neutral” in the body is supposed to change. It is dynamic and interdependently linked to other areas and systems within your body. Notice how both lower legs are stacked over the feet, the ankle joint feels slightly bent or flexed, and the thighs are parallel, not as splayed outward to the sides. A neutral position feels like the bones are stacked, and there is minimal muscular effort to hold you upright. 

  •    Hip Joint Height—Level Hips: Raise or lower your seat height so that your hip joints or groin crease are level or slightly higher than your knees, forming a 90–100-degree angle with your torso.
  •    Rocking Sit Bones—Tilting Pelvis: Tilt the pelvis forward and backward, noticing a rocking sensation across the bottom of the pelvis or over the sit bones. Coordinate and couple the movement of the pelvis tilting forward with an increase in the natural in-curve of the lower back. Likewise, coordinate and couple the movement of the pelvis tilting back with a decreasein the natural in-curve of the lower back. In this position, it feels like the tailbone slightly tucks between the legs, and the lower back takes on a round shape. Explore the ranges of tilting the pelvis until the top of the pelvic blades or “waist” is level and parallel to the ground. Notice how the feet and hips help support this levelness.
  •    Ear Hole Glides – Stacking Head Above Shoulders: Some directions are easy to say but hard to do if you have a long history of poor habits. We are often told to “keep your head directly above your shoulders, maintaining a straight back.” Try to follow this advice now, and notice how much muscular effort it takes? How many muscles must turn, activate, or “tense up” to match your body to those words? Notice how your breathing changes? Here is a better suggestion, a movement strategy or activation of a muscle pathway to help you arrive at a more neutral place where the head is balanced over the spine and the shoulder blades can hang over the upper back ribs. 

Close your eyes. Imagine you have a very long pencil extending out from your right ear hole. The pencil is supported by your ear canal, so it won’t fall out of the ear. Now, imagine a piece of paper hanging from the ceiling and directly in alignment over the top of your right shoulder. Using your imaginary pencil, explore how to draw a horizontal line along the paper. Your line is parallel to the ground. At first, you may try to turn the head to the right, but notice how the pencil loses contact with the paper. 

Instead of head-turning, try keeping the right side of the head parallel to the paper as though the earhole slides along the paper and, with it, the pencil. As you withdraw the earhole and your pencil back along the paper, allow the right side of the chin to tuck down a little and feel as if the whole right side of the head is drawing the line. The teeth will come together, but notice that it is different than “clenching the jaw.” The eyes are softly gazing forward or looking slightly off to the left. Then, reverse the movement, retracing the line forward, teeth separating, and chin untucking. 

Repeat the movement several times. Have a little downward pressure on your feet, especially the right foot. Connect your abdomen to this movement. Allow the abdominal muscles to reflexively engage a little so that you don’t feel like you are going to fall backward into the chair. The pelvis can still maintain a levelness or minimal tilting. This additional support from your feet and abdomen allows your lower rib cage to lift up and out of your pelvis and stack over your sit bones to maintain a balanced stance. Going slowly and not concerned with drawing the “perfect” line, perhaps you find that your breath can cycle in the background. Release any stiffness or “over-efforting” you may have. It’s not about blocking the right shoulder from moving as the ear travels back. Allow the shoulder, shoulder blade, and collarbone to move a little. 

And then reverse the movement, the pencil in the earhole “tracing a horizontal line forward,” releasing the chin tuck, allowing the shoulder to move. Go slowly back and forth several times, reducing the urge to draw a long line. Let the line eventually get shorter and shorter until there is no outer appearance or indication that you are drawing a line. See if your line can be more level and thicker rather than longer. Eventually, you come to a place where the pencil stops moving. Notice the head’s position in relation to your shoulders. More stacked or balanced between the shoulders? Perhaps even more balanced over the entire torso or over the pelvis. How much muscular effort are you using in this position? Feel the difference in the sensation this stacked alignment offers versus the words of someone telling you what to do: “Keep your head directly above your shoulders, maintaining a straight back.” 

Repeat the movement on the other side.  

After exploring the movement on the other side, stop and notice how the earholes are stacked between the shoulders and the pelvis, both from a side-to-side perspective and a forward and back perspective. A neutral position feels like the bones are stacked, and there is minimal muscular effort to hold you upright. Notice your gaze. Head facing forward, you look straight ahead with your ears over your shoulders. Elbows are under your shoulders, hands and forearms are on your thighs, or the arms of your chair. What is the quality of your breath in this position? Slow and steady? Is it quieter yet fully cycling in the background—exhaling…inhaling? 


Now that we’ve explored the question, “What’s the most important benefit of maintaining a neutral posture?” and established that it’s not just a matter of aesthetics but a fundamental aspect of preserving the health and functionality of our bodies, you can start to find your unique “neutral” by slowly exploring small movements that reveal a range of possibilities. By comprehending the intricacies of the spine’s anatomy, understanding the advantages of a neutral position, and taking practical steps to achieve it, individuals can pave the way for a more comfortable, injury-resistant, and energized lifestyle. So, the next time you find yourself slouching or leaning off to one side when in the sitting position, gently direct your awareness to explore the relationship between small movements and the discovery of a neutral posture that influences your overall well-being.

Ready to delve deeper into somatic education and its transformative impact on movement patterns? Consider scheduling a call with Montgomery Somatics at 812-344-4119 and start on a journey of self-discovery, unlocking your body’s potential through somatic education today!