For our June 2019 post, we started by asking friends and family what they wanted to know. There were lots of questions, but one thing in particular kept coming up. The predominating question seemed to be, “I work a desk job – how can I keep it from destroying my body?” It makes sense that this would be a highly requested topic – after all,roughly 80% of Americans work a desk job and abundant credible evidence has shown numerous negative health effects related to sitting all day. But don’t despair! There are some simple things you can do to minimize those effects and ensure that you’re comfortable and healthy while rocking it at work. This is a big discussion topic with many parts, so we’re breaking it down in chunks for you. In this post, we’ll cover:
HOW TO SIT WITH GOOD POSTURE
Postural stress can cause or contribute to all sorts of problems. The most common is low back pain, but poor posture can be related to aches and pains from the neck to the knees.
The normal posture of the spine demonstrates a slight arch in your lower back as shown above. This is called neutral spine. Neutral spine allows one to also be open in their chest with their shoulders back, and their head on top of their shoulders instead of forward. His arms are also resting at 90°, preventing tension in his shoulders. Unfortunately, this is not how many people tend to sit, especially as fatigue sets in later in the workday.
Here are some examples of poor sitting posture:
We commonly refer to this as slumped posture, and it has all sorts of negative effects. It rounds your shoulders, it pushes your head forward – it’s all sorts of bad for you. Most people know that slumped posture is bad. What most people don’t realize is that good posture doesn’t need to be effortful! It just requires some adjustments to your workstation.
So let’s talk about how to avoid poor posture and achieve a neutral spine, with very little physical effort. Try this in your chair as you read:
When you sit, you can feel weight through your sit bones (those pokey parts of your butt that contact your chair). If you sit with a rounded back, as in the poor posture images, you might also feel your tailbone on the chair. If you sit up tall, with a slight arch in your lower back, there will be no pressure on your tailbone. In proper sitting, you should not feel your tailbone pressing into the chair.
So why is it so difficult to sit with good posture? Usually it’s because of hip flexion range of motion, or the ability to bend at the front of the hips. Most people don’t have the hip flexion range of motion to sit with their legs parallel to the ground and their tailbone off the chair (see image 2). This means they end up stealing that bending from their lower spine (see image 3). But the spine is a connected chain, and when the lower spine is rounded, it can disadvantage your entire posture.
To prevent this, the first thing you want to do is adjust your workstation so you can be more open at your hips, and therefore more neutral in your spine. We’ll build the rest of your good posture off that neutral spine.
The easiest way to do this is simple: raise your chair height and sit on the edge, with your feet resting on the floor. You read that right – you don’t need to use the back of your chair (take another look at image 1).
What if my chair is not adjustable?
If your chair is not adjustable, or if it just doesn’t rise high enough for your leg length, you have a couple of options. The first is to replace your chair. Another option might be to try using a chair wedge or a lumbar support to help you achieve that neutral back. A chair wedge will raise your seat height a little and also tilt your pelvis slightly forward so that you can be more open in the hips. A lumbar support will do neither of those things, but will push your lower back into more of a curve, lessening the potential rounding.
Conveniently, these options typically don’t weigh or cost much, so it may also be convenient for you to bring them with you to the theater, for example, or any place where you will have to sit for a long time in a low seat.
A third option, when forced to sit on a low seat height, is to split your stance, or drop one leg down to help tilt your pelvis forward.
What if I have a standing desk?
Great! Just remember that’s it’s still possible to stand with poor posture. So try to emulate the neutral posture shown below on the left, as opposed to “sway back” posture.
Give some of these adjustments a try at your workstation! If you’re still having trouble sitting with good posture, you can always consult your physical therapist.
Keep an eye out for future posts to learn about the best stretches for those working a desk job!
Kim Tjoelker, PT, DPT
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