Of course we shouldn't! If you must, at least use proper sitting posture. The first thing to understand about sitting, is that it shouldn't be static. In other words, no matter how wonderful your chair is, or what perfect sitting posture you have, being in that position for long periods of time without breaks is detrimental to your health and your muscles. We are not built to sit still! With that understanding, I want to discuss various ways that you can sit to have proper sitting posture.
Chairs are not very good for us in general. Some would argue that they set us up to have back pain and breathing problems. How do chairs do this? They generally promote a slouched posture which weakens postural muscles, puts a lot of pressure on the discs in the low back. Slouching also encourages excessive curve in the mid back, collapses the chest making it impossible to breath properly. It even effects the neck by pushing the head forward, straining neck muscles and setting you up for headaches. With this in mind, I want to give you several different options for proper sitting posture that you can switch between to reduce strain as much as possible, and reduce slouching. This information is based on the Alexander Technique and Dr. Janet Travell's work on trigger points.
A. Slouched Sitting Posture - Notice the rounding of her back, her shoulders rolling forward, her collapsed chest, and loss of curve in her low back. This promotes the problems discussed above (pressure on the discs, difficulty breathing, neck problems etc.)
B. Forward Head Posture - This posture also creates flattening of the lumbar spine and excessive upper back curve. However, it is the neck the suffers the most. Notice how her head is not supported by her neck, setting her up for headaches and neck pain. She has to really extend the top of her neck so she is not looking at the floor.
C. Sitting at
Attention - At first glance, this appears to be good posture, but just as
with standing at attention, this cannot be maintained for long periods
of time. It is simply too demanding. She is not centered over her sit bones
(see image below). She is holding her shoulders back, jamming the joints in her
upper back. The excess muscle tension is not only very tiring, it also flattens
the curves in her spine.
D. Proper Sitting Posture - Notice that she is well lined up and relaxed. Her head is balanced over her sit bones (see the image below). Her shoulders are not rolled in, her spine has all the proper curves, and her pelvis is neutral. Her chest is open to allow freedom to breathe. This is a posture that can be maintained for longer periods of time.
To be able to have proper sitting posture without back support, it is really important that your be sitting on your "sit bones." This is a bit harder than you would suspect. Your sit bones are located near the crease between your buttock and the back of your thigh (marked with a green x in the image above). Notice that when she sits a attention, she is actually not centered over her sit bones, which makes her work harder. This position can also cause pain in her tailbone (coccyx) because she is sitting on it and pressing it forward.
Here is a postural exercise to find your sit bones, and learn proper sitting posture.
Still having trouble finding the right position? Try this:
Are you sitting much of the day in your office chair? Posture, as well as the support of the chair is really important since you are there for so many hours. Of course, you will need to be on a level surface — watch out for sitting on a wallet or on worn out cushions in the car or couch.
When working, it is important to be able to maintain proper sitting posture while leaning forward. Before you even start leaning, you need to stop and choose not to do it the way you usually do it.
There are a few things that are specific to the office. I have a full discussion of office chair posture where I talk about how to modify your chair to fit you, or how to choose a new one. I also discuss how to set up your computer, to minimize injury from poor ergonomics.
I also have a page about how to set up your car, to minimize discomfort with driving for long periods.
As you work on proper sitting posture, your back will feel tired because you are using new muscles. Taking micro breaks can be really helpful for these muscles. Get up and move around. The Alexander Technique has a semi-supine rest position that can help rest the muscles. It can be helpful to lie down in this position throughout the day for a minute or two at a time to rest the muscles and allow yourself to strengthen them more quickly, as well as increase your productivity. Learn more about how and why to use the semi-supine technique.