Homeworking? Let’s Sit Properly!

Xandra says: Good posture is everything. How we sit and stand can affect so many facets of our lives, from our balance and coordination, to how well you breathe… possibly even how long you live!

Our Realign posture programme teaches people how to sit correctly. As more of us  are now homeworking, sitting correctly, with the right chair and desk setup is something that we are being left to figure out for ourselves. As a chiropractor, I am hearing from more people who are experiencing back pain. 

The steps I will guide you through can be used by anyone who sits for any amount of time, even if it’s in a car or van. Simply becoming more aware of how you sit can help to ensure that you are working to prevent and relieve any back pain. 

 the #1 myth about sitting properly

 … Is the belief that the ‘correct’ way to sit is upright with their hips and knees at 90 degrees, with their feet planted firmly on the floor. This is incorrect!

UK office workers find themselves sitting for an average of 8.9 hours a day. Having the incorrect sitting posture for any sustained period is terrible for your joints and discs.1

the reality is that sitting upright Is bad for your health!

Believe it or not, there is not any quantifiable research that states that upright posture with your knees and hips bent is in any way good for you. There is, however, research that shows that sitting upright places excessive load1 on the discs of the lower back.2 This can lead to back pain and varying degrees of wear and tear.

Research also shows that reclining while seated at an angle is much better for the spine than sitting upright. What is incredible is that this research has been around for 20 years! That is longer than I have been working as a chiropractor and yet I have never met a patient who has been taught it.

so, let me show you how you can finally sit the correct and comfortable way

Sitting mistakes. A well-known test of how good (or bad) your posture is, is to look at a picture of yourself taken from the side that shows you standing in your normal position. If you are standing correctly, you should be able to draw a line from your head to your foot that intersects your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. 

This test seems to have been lost in translation to become advice that you should also sit bolt upright, in order to maintain the same line through your upper body. 

The problem with this, is time. Office workers estimate they sit for at least 54%3 of their day. Asking the muscles of the body to support that upright posture for hours is too hard for the majority of people, and extremely bad for your joints.

Think about how it feels. Does it feel good? Does it make you feel relaxed? Do you feel loose? No way! Sitting upright is difficult for the human body as your spine isn’t straight. It has three normal curves.

 Gravity has a part to play, too. All of your upper body weight is forced through your spine, until it is all resting on the lowest joints. After 10-20 minutes it is likely that fatigue will kick in. You might find yourself leaning on an armrest, creating uneven force on one side of your body, or even worse, you start leaning forward on the desk. 

Leaning forwards puts more pressure through your arms, knees, hips and feet. You also put your head in a forward position, increasing the weight of your head on your upper back and rounding your shoulders forwards.

By trying to sit in a way that keeps this ‘perfect posture line,’ you might actually be spending hours sitting in the wrong position and doing more harm than good. Trying to do what you thought was the right thing can actually create more of a problem.

As an alternative to leaning forward, some people find their body doing the opposite, and slouching back into the chair. In this slouching position, your bottom sits forward on the seat, creating a gap between your back and the chair, so that your lower back slumps into this space.

This posture is even worse than trying to sit upright, because it places tension through the joints of your lower back as your weight sinks into them. This is why your mother always told you not to slouch!

so, what is the solution to good sitting posture?

Lean back! Make your chair and desk do more work. The more you can get them to support your weight, the more comfortable you will feel.

By leaning back, your shoulders are relaxed and your posture is angled backwards, not forwards. Modern posture causes the head to come very far forwards, putting stress and strain on the neck, upper back and shoulders.

Think about how it feels. Leaning back is comfortable! Opening your posture up in this way can positively affect your emotions4 and help you to feel happier.

how to sit correctly

1. extend your legs

 Move your feet in front of your knees as far as you can so that they straighten. This will help to put less load and weight on your legs as you sit.

Why?

Knee and hip replacements are becoming normal in life today, which is a terrifying prospect. The fact that humans have started to need bionic joints means that we are doing something very wrong in our lifestyle habits. Research puts this down to diet, weight and how we sit.5

The cause of a lot of these joint issues is that when we sit, many of us put weight through our legs, at the wrong angle, for long periods of time.

When your lower legs are at 90 degrees to your thighs, you inadvertently put excessive load on the cartilage of your knees. If you then sit forwards, you place your body weight through the legs. Your knee is now in a loaded, weak position. Sit this way for hours and you could easily be stressing the joint past where it can cope. Do this for a few years and you might wear those knees out!

2. put your feet up

An angled, height-adjustable step is the main piece of equipment you may need for perfect workstation posture.

Using a step helps when leaning your chair backwards and it will help to keep your legs straighter. It makes the issue of reaching the floor easy, and helps you feel much more comfortable.

Why?

Even if you are tall, leaning your chair back will bring your feet up, so using a step to support your feet helps you to remain reclined. As a bonus, if it is a rocking angled step, by moving your feet on it you may benefit from the increase in circulation.

3. sit back and relax! 

Lean back to open up the angle between your hips and upper body. This is proven to put less strain2 on your lower back discs.1

Leaning back does not mean slouching! You’ll know if you are slouching if your bottom comes forwards on the chair and there is a gap between the seat back and you. This posture will cause your lower back to slump back to fill the gap, stressing the lower back joints.

Sit your bottom as far back in the chair as you can, and then lean the back of the seat backwards. The chair back should now be taking the weight of your upper body.

Why recline?

Sitting upright puts your weight and stress through your lower back and hip joints. Angling your hips away from your lower back helps to relive that strain. 

Leaning back not only reduces the load on the joints, but by opening your posture it actually changes your emotions. Open posture has been linked to emotions of success, happiness, confidence and optimism.4

4. support your lower back curve

Most modern office chairs come complete with a curved section to support the lower back. If yours has one that is adjustable, make sure it is fully out. If not, add a foam lumbar roll. 

Why add lumbar support?

Your lower back has a large curve at the bottom, and getting your chair to support this curve means less strain on your discs and joints, reducing any pain and fatigue.

A support stops your back from slumping and supports the curve without any effort from you. It is important to sit back in the chair to prevent you from ‘perching’ at the front. This posture is one of the worst, because when you get tired (which will happen quickly), you then slouch or lean forwards.

Sit back and rest your spine.

5. arms

 Let your desk do the work by lowering your seat so that your chair goes right underneath the desk. Then move the keyboard and mouse back towards the computer. With your chair reclined you have full support for your arms on the table. It is then carrying the weight, so that  your shoulders relax and sit back against the chair.

To help your typing angle, slightly raise your keyboard, and use a wrist rest in front. This will help reduce the possibility of developing RSI (repetitive strain injury).

Why?

Our arms weigh a lot! Sitting at a desk all day typing can put pressure on your neck and upper back. To compensate, our shoulders will start to lift, our upper back tenses and eventually your chest muscles will try to help you out, by rounding your shoulders forwards.

6. check your screen height! 

Your screen should be positioned so that your gaze from your reclined position naturally looks at the centre of the screen. Try not to have your screen too close. Focus instead on making sure you are able to sit comfortably and not have to force your neck to a looking up or down position. 

Why?

I hear many times from patients that the top of the screen should be at eye level. This will naturally force you to lower your gaze (and tilt your neck downwards) to accommodate this, as our work, and our gaze, naturally falls to the middle of our screens. It therefore makes sense to set up your workstation, so that the middle of the screen is at eye level.

7. move!

Almost everyone knows that sitting for hours a day is bad for your health. This is why standing desks are seeing a rise in popularity. Even an hour at the gym each day is not enough to reverse the damage caused by sitting at a desk all day. 

By taking a conscious decision to simply focus on how you sit, and committing to make regular adjustments to your posture takes just a few seconds each time. There is no excuse that you ‘don’t have time.’ Set a reminder to twice an hour and use that time to make any adjustments. (As an aside, we typically have an attention span of between 14 – 29 minutes. After that, productivity inevitably decreases). So, use that time to take a moment to breathe, and to adjust your posture. Taking this breather from what you are doing can actually help you to gain more constructive time through greater periods of productivity.

If you have the time, getting up and moving regularly is even better for your mind, back and body. Those few seconds of standing and moving can help wake up your brain, increase your circulation and help push oxygen through the body. People who move more at work have much higher rates of productivity than people who sit still. This has been proven in many studies, such as this one by a training company where workers who moved felt a 42% increase6 in their concentration and work effort.

8. think outside the box

Consider investing in a standing desk. This sounds like the ideal solution if sitting really is bad for your health, and it is true that you will burn more calories, improve your heart function and reduce the effects of sitting if you use a standing desk.

The problem is that standing still is also hard for the body. You have some of the same issues when standing upright as you may experience when sitting down. Gravity is still putting load on your joints, and you are still having to maintain your posture.

However, there are many benefits to standing to work that far outweigh any potential negatives. Standing will definitely burn more calories, aid your circulation and through general movement, improve your overall health.

The ideal solution is to do both! Why not stand and sit?

Standing for 20 minutes of each hour can significantly boost your health, and then you can sit, to rest your joints. This is not only achievable, but should help to wake up your concentration and your posture.

Find your balance. To really supercharge your workstation, consider sitting on a gym ball for 10 minutes every hour. The natural bounce motion contracts and strengthens your core muscles, giving you a workout at your desk.

This core strength can help improve your posture and pelvic floor muscles. Just set a timer on the computer and swap your chair for the ball. The movement can help boost your circulation and with it, your overall health and wellness.

Posture. People who sit for long periods often have poor posture, because they continually try to do ‘the right thing’ (the wrong thing) and sit upright. This leads to lower back pain from stressing their joints, tight hip flexors and upper thighs and rounded shoulders as a result of poor neck position. We have developed our unique posture routine to loosen the stiffness that this posture has created and to strengthen weakened muscles. 

The good news is that poor posture and the associated pain that comes with it can be reversed by a set of simple exercises and by sitting correctly. While generic posture exercises are available anywhere, realign features a detailed questionnaire to tailor your own custom programme to show you your own unique posture type, and gives you the solution to fixing your posture in under 90 days and it is free to The Natural Doctors’ members.  

 references

  1. Harrison DD, Harrison SO, Croft AC, Harrison DE, Troyanovich SJ. Sitting biomechanics part I: review of the literature. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1999 Nov-Dec;22(9):594-609. doi: 10.1016/s0161-4754(99)70020-5. PMID: 10626703.
  2. Hirasawa Y, Bashir WA, Smith FW, Magnusson ML, Pope MH, Takahashi K. Postural changes of the dural sac in the lumbar spines of asymptomatic individuals using positional stand-up magnetic resonance imaging. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2007 Feb 15;32(4):E136-40. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000255202.94153.ca. PMID: 17304123.
  3. Kazi A, Duncan M, Clemes S, Haslam C. A survey of sitting time among UK employees. Occup Med (Lond). 2014 Oct;64(7):497-502. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqu099. Epub 2014 Aug 18. PMID: 25135938.
  4. Rosário JL, Diógenes MS, Mattei R, Leite JR. Angry posture. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2016 Jul;20(3):457-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.01.002. Epub 2016 Jan 18. PMID: 27634065.
  5. Nagura T, Dyrby CO, Alexander EJ, Andriacchi TP. Mechanical loads at the knee joint during deep flexion. J Orthop Res. 2002 Jul;20(4):881-6. doi: 10.1016/S0736-0266(01)00178-4. PMID: 12168682.
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisongriswold/2012/06/12/to-work-better-just-get-up-from-your-desk/#61fe4d81c157

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