One of the most common questions that I receive from my patients is how to attain proper posture. First we must understand what exactly posture is. In simple terms, posture is the relationship with the skeleton to the earth’s gravitational forces. The skeleton is designed to disperse forces from the top of the head, through the feet and eventually to the floor. With a totally “neutral” posture, the body is designed to disperse these forces with minimal impact on the surrounding tissues of the body. But when the posture is altered in any way that alters how the body perceives these forces. This leads to joints of the body taking on more force than they are designed to hold. This is the type of stress that can lead to chronic disease such as disc degeneration, osteoarthritis, chronic low back pain, sciatica, upper back and neck pain, and cervicogenic headaches to name a few. I have written a series of articles with the intent to inform you of how to maintain proper posture throughout your day so you have the knowledge to reduce the load placed on your body and live a healthier lifestyle.
As we dive further into Postural Awareness Month, we turn our attention to seated posture. Considering the majority of our culture spends more than 40 hours per week in seated position, seated ergonomics can be one of most important topics that we will discuss over the course of this month. Sitting in general is not a natural position, so there is no “perfect” position to sit. With that in mind, I understand that for some people sitting for pro-longed periods of time is unavoidable. Way back in the cave man days there were no chairs. We humans would squat in the catcher’s position much like apes when resting. This would utilize the full range of motion in the hips and keep the hip joints mobile. When sitting in a chair we are only utilizing about half of the hip joints range of motion, which leads to tight hip capsules and hip problems. I have put together a few reference points for you to remember while you're sitting. These reference points are aimed to reduce the amount of stress on your body while in a seated position.
1. Use Your Pelvis Properly
The most important adjustment you can make in a seated position is to make sure that you are sitting correctly on your pelvis. Many people slouch in their chairs and roll forward onto the sacrum. When we scoot up towards the front of our chair, that transfers the weight from our upper body onto the front of the sacrum, this places a tremendous amount of pressure on the lower lumbar discs and the sacroiliac joint.
Simply sit back in the chair and sit up on the “sit bones” (ischial tuberosity) that are located underneath the pelvis. This will promote a more neutral orientation of the pelvis which in turn promote the normal curvature (lordosis) of the lumbar spine and take pressure off of the lumbar discs. There are products such as lumbar support cushions that help you promote this posture. Or you can take a small pillow and place it behind your chair to remind yourself not to slouch.
2. The Knee Angle
Very often I see people sitting with their feet folded under their chair (with the knees in an acute angle) or spread out in front of them (with an obtuse angle of the knee joint). Either of these positions places our pelvis and our hips in a position that make it harder to gain the proper posture that we mentioned above.
We want our feet directly under our knees at all times, which puts our knees at a nice 90 degree angle. Another thing you can do is keep your knees bent at 90 degrees and place a small stool underneath your feet in order to gain more flexion in the hip joint. Ideally we want the knees higher than the hips; whenever this is accomplished it takes a lot of pressure off of the low back.
3. Shoulder & Head Positioning
Often people have to lean forward or look downward in order to see whatever they are working on, whether it is a book or a computer screen. This causes flexion of the neck and forward weight head posture.
Remember what I told you in my first article about forward head posture and shoulder positioning, those rules still apply to a seated position. We want to make sure that our shoulders are rolled back into a neutral position and our chin remains parallel to the floor. In order to accomplish the proper chin positioning you may need to raise the computer screen about a half of a foot off of the desk. The optimal positioning of the computer monitor is to have the top of the monitor at eye level.
MOST IMPORTANTLY KEEP MOVING! Remember what I said earlier, there is nothing natural about a seated posture. Avoid sitting for more than 45 minutes at a time. When we sit for more than this we place excess stress and pressure on the low back and allow blood to pool within the veins of our lower extremity. Get up, stand, and walk around for 10-15 minutes every hour to keep your blood flowing and allowing all of the blood that is pooling in the veins in your legs to get recycled back into your heart. This will help you avoid developing blood clots throughout your legs as well as keeping your joints moving properly. Motion is Lotion!
If you feel as if you are experiencing pain related to poor posture find a Doctor of Chiropractic near you that can remove the restriction and restore mobility, as well as help educate you on proper posture. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Dr. Jesse J. Suess, DC
Suess Family Chiropractic, L.L.C
22 Wyckoff Ave., Suite 1
Waldwick, NJ 07463