The average American adult spends about six and a half hours a day sitting. Given the remote revolution and coronavirus pandemic, the real number could easily be much higher as many office workers are no longer commuting to work. All of us sit differently, from rigid straight backs to heavy slumping, and while all the variations of sitting can feel comfortable to us at the time, there are several health risks associated with bad seating positions and posture. These range from the back, neck, and shoulder pain, to poor circulation, digestion and even a sore jaw – how you sit has a significant impact on your entire body.
The biggest issue surrounding sitting is that people usually are not aware of the extent to which sitting is related to potential health problems, or there is an assumption that because they’re not currently experiencing any discomfort, then they won’t in the future. However, the reality is that not addressing a bad sitting position can cause severe problems down the road. Here are some of the most common ways in which people sit, why they’re harmful, and how you can easily fix them.
Slumping is a very common problem which usually occurs when sitting in the same place for an extended period, and allowing the back to slowly sink lower in the chair. Whether working at home, watching a film, or playing games, it’s natural for the back to move away from the back of the chair, especially if the chair has insufficient lumbar (lower spine) support. Slumping to one side, crossing knees, ankles, and arms, and straining the neck are often associated with computer crouchers. The problem with slumping is that it overuses muscles around the pelvis which over time can lead to an imbalance in posture, and tightness in the hamstrings.
How to fix it:
- Ensure that the monitor is at least an arm’s length away from you, and no more than two inches above the natural line of sight.
- Your elbows should be by the side of your body so that your arms form an L-shape at the elbow joint which is perpendicular to the desk.
- Keep the mouse and keyboard close together to avoid overreaching which can induce slumping
- Take regular breaks to move and stretch your muscles
- Consider investing in some footrests, wrist pads, and backrest.
Leaning back is a position adopted by people to feel more comfortable and relaxed often whilst on a call. It is characterized by tilting the chair backward, with the hands being placed behind the head and the legs being extended away from the chair. This position creates a gap between your lower back and the chair and increases the pressure on the upper spine and the neck. You may also be leaning back because you’re not sufficiently rested against a supportive surface.
How to fix it:
- The simplest way to stop leaning back is to make sure that your feet are flat on the ground at all times, with your knees bent and your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Leaning back can be an indication that your back is sensitive in certain places, which means you may be sleeping in a strange position. If your back is susceptible to sensitivity, then having a firm mattress can help to address it.
- Leaning is also often a sign that you have a flat back, particularly if you are doing it consistently. A flat back means that your pelvis is tucked in and there is insufficient curvature in your lower back. You can correct a flat back by strengthening your core, buttocks, neck, and rear shoulder muscles.
Sitting with hunched shoulders can be caused by a forward curvature in the spine, neck injuries such as whiplash, a muscle imbalance where your upper back is weak, or being overweight which pulls your shoulders forward. It can limit your lungs’ ability to expand, which has a negative effect on your breathing and heart rate. Hunched shoulders are becoming increasingly common due to the relatively new phenomenon of staring down at a cell phone for a long period of time. When the head is tilted forward, it can seem as though it weighs 60 pounds, when on average it only weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. Therefore, avoiding hunched shoulders when sitting for long periods of time is crucial to maintain a healthy posture.
How to fix it:
- Lengthen the spine by relaxing the shoulders back and keeping your chin at a right angle from the chest.
- Turn your palms forward with your arms against your sides.
- Keep your shoulder blades firmly pressed against the upper part of the chair as this allows your head to straighten and maintain the natural C-shaped curve in your spine.
Many people seek the additional comfort of a cushion or pillow, thinking that it helps your posture because of the support and soft feel. However, allowing your buttocks to sink into the material causes your pelvis to tilt backward, so your body has to work harder in order to stay upright. Being forced into using a pillow also gives you added height which can disrupt the overall balance of your seating position and ergonomics. Having to use a pillow could also be the fault of the chair, whereby the padding on the seating is too hard, or poorly designed so that there is a declining slope in it which is disrupting your balance.
How to fix it:
- Disperse the weight of your body evenly, to allow your muscles to relax and blood flow to circulate more efficiently.
- If you need to use support for your chair, consider purchasing a memory foam lumbar roll or invest in a chair that has built-in lumbar support. Both options are far more effective than a soft pillow or cushion.
Although the various different ways of sitting can appear natural and comfortable depending on the individual, they should not interfere with the need for good posture. Whatever your tendencies are when sitting, due to physical problems or just through habit, there are so many ways that you can work on achieving good posture. It should be noted that sitting doesn’t have to be a wholly stationary activity, taking a moment to get up from your chair and walk around or stretch is a good habit to develop. You can also do basic exercises whilst in your chair such as neck rotations, arm raises, upper body twists, and ankle stretches.
As well as good sitting habits, using the right equipment is vital. If you don’t have a seat that provides the right foundation, then you’ll struggle to avoid aches and pains. Sitting Disease is real and more cases are emerging of prolonged sitting being associated with an increased risk of developing up to 34 chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. If you recognize potential flaws in your sitting position and take steps to improve it, then this can help to improve your health on a long-term basis.
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