If you’re an average UK worker, up to 80% of your time is spent sitting. Over millions of years our bodies evolved to be upright, with a skeleton and muscle structure perfectly adapted for walking, running and jumping. Then in just 40 years or so, our default mode became glued to a desk.
This change is more than just a waste of your body’s potential, it’s damaging to the point that you can correlate your time spent sitting to your life expectancy. Australian researchers found those who watched TV for more than four hours a day had a 46% higher mortality rate than those who watched two, as well as being 80% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
It wasn’t just the lack of movement that was responsible but also keeping the body in an unnatural position for such extended periods of time. Most people don’t realise it’s an issue until those daily niggles build into unbearable pain or they injure themselves when their sitting-shaped body moves in a way it’s no longer used to.
How to sit well
Keeping your spine healthy is like stacking building blocks, with three curves stacked on top of each other that need to be maintained. Just like with building blocks, you start at the bottom with the correct lumber curve, which is the inward curve just above your pelvis.
Moving your pelvis to a neutral position should give you a healthy lumbar curve. A neutral pelvis when sitting is tilted slightly forwards. If you’re having a hard time picturing a neutral pelvis, feel around for your hip bones and position yourself so that they’re angled towards your thighs. Then if you can feel a gentle inward curve in your lower spine, congratulations, your first building block is in place!
Next is the thoracic curve along the upper spine which is responsible for the telltale hunched posture in someone who sit poorly. Unlike the lumbar curve, you want to try and reduce the thoracic curve, which you do by holding your chest up slightly and – if you imagine looking at yourself from above – keeping your shoulders straight on either side.
Finally, the cervical curve, which is the natural slight inward curve of your neck. The desk-sitter with a poor posture typically juts their chin towards their screen, continuing the line of the thoracic curve. This stretched position puts strain on the muscles and ligaments in the neck and shoulders.
If no one’s watching, move your head back and forth like a chicken and stop when your head is directly centred above your torso. If your lumbar and thoracic curve are both correct as well you should now be able to imagine a line going straight through you with your spine gently looping in and out of it.
Probably not. If you’ve spent years behind a desk then this posture will be putting load on the unworked deep muscles in your hips, core and back instead of putting that load onto your spine. Trying to hold a healthy spine together is always tough for those who have been neglecting it but it’s worth the mild aches and pains to avoid spending your later years shaped like a question mark.
Within around four weeks of diligently keeping your back straight the aches and pains should subside as your muscles adapt, then within around three months it should become habit. Try sticking a bright coloured sticker to the side of your monitor so that whenever it catches your eye you reflexively correct your posture.
It’s crucial that your work environment encourages you. Your seat height should place your thighs horizontally and your feet flat on the ground and your monitor should be positioned so that your eyes rest in the top third of the screen if you’re looking directly ahead. Ideally, your chair will prop up your lower back either through its design or a detachable lumbar support.
Also bear in mind that any position puts unhealthy strain on your body if held for too long. Set an alarm so that every twenty minutes you stand up and walk about a little. In your free time, try to do exercises that will pull you in the opposite direction; that’s running, walking and swimming instead of cycling and rowing.
Of course, the best way to get the guidance and results you need is to consult with your physiotherapist. We can perform exhaustive tests to assess how your sitting posture is affecting your health, recommend exercises to ease you into a better posture and even look at your work environment to recommend changes and equipment that can help you sit straight.
Call us on 0207 937 1628 to find out how we can get you sitting comfortably for good.
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist
For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact me at West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email firstname.lastname@example.org