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Health Check: what's the best way to sit?
Thursday, June 18, 2020, 0:57 (IST)
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.
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:
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.
Option 2: forward sitting
The defining feature of this posture is that the trunk is angled forward, and the arms are rested on the work surface. Allowing the thigh to point down at an angle may make it easier to maintain an inward curve in your lower back, which is suggested to reduce low back stress.
For a time special chairs were developed to enable the thigh to be angled downwards, and usually had a feature to block the knees, stopping the person sliding off the angled seat base.
By perching on the front of an ordinary chair and resting your elbows on the work surface, you can use this posture to provide variety in sitting. This posture is useful for tasks such as drawing or handwriting on a flat work surface, either with paper or a touch screen device.
Option 3: reclined sitting
The defining feature of the third option is the trunk is angled backward, supported by the chair's backrest. Back muscle activity is lowest in this posture, as some of the upper body weight is taken by the chair.
This position may reduce the risk of fatigue in the back muscles and resultant discomfort. But sitting like this for hours each day may result in the back muscles being more vulnerable to fatigue in the future.
This posture is useful for meetings and phone conversations. But it doesn't work well for handwriting or using a computer as the arms need to be held forwards for these things, requiring neck and shoulder muscle activity likely to result in discomfort.
Leon Straker, Professor of Physiotherapy, Curtin University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.