Many people spend the majority of their waking hours sitting – at home, commuting and at work.
Particularly when we’re sitting for long periods at a desk, there are a few things we should keep in mind.
Read more: Health Check: sitting versus standing
How should we sit?
Many people think there is one “good” posture. But actually, there isn’t just one way of sitting. Different ways of sitting will place different physical stresses on our bodies, and variety is good.
To work out if a posture is “good” or not, we can assess it based on several things:
the amount of muscle activity required to hold the position (too much muscle activity could be a problem as it can result in fatigue if held continuously for a long period)
the estimated stress on joints, including the discs between the vertebral bones of the spine (too much physical loading stress could be a problem as it may cause pain in the joints and ligaments or muscles around them)
whether the joints are in the middle of their range of movement or near the extreme (awkward, near end-of-range postures may put more stress on tissues around joints)
the amount of fidgeting people do (moving about in your seat, or fidgeting, can be an early indicator of discomfort and may suggest a risk of later pain).
Given these criteria, research suggests there are three main options for how you can sit well at a desk. Each option has different pros and cons, and is suitable for different tasks.
Option 1: upright sitting
This is probably the posture you think of as “good” posture. The defining feature of this option is that the trunk is upright.
A key component of upright sitting is that the feet can comfortably rest on a surface, whether the floor or a footstool. This position also makes it easy to adjust posture within the chair (fidget) and change posture to get out of the chair.
It’s also important the arms hang down from the shoulders vertically with elbows by the trunk, unless the forearms are supported on the work surface. Holding unsupported arms forward requires the muscles connecting the shoulder and neck to work harder. This often results in muscle fatigue and discomfort.
The head should be looking straight ahead or a little downwards. Looking upwards would increase tension in the neck and likely lead to discomfort.
This posture is useful for common office tasks such as working on a desktop computer.
Authors: Leon Straker, Professor of Physiotherapy, Curtin University