Sitting Straight Bad For Backs

Sitting straight 'bad for backs'
Man sat at a desk
Slouching over a desk is certainly not recommended
Sitting up straight is not the best position for office workers, a study has suggested.


Comments by Scott OLIVER at the end of the article. 

Scottish and Canadian researchers used a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show it places an unnecessary strain on your back.

They told the Radiological Society of North America that the best position in which to sit at your desk is leaning slightly back, at about 135 degrees.

Experts said sitting was known to contribute to lower back pain.

Data from the British Chiropractic Association says 32% of the population spends more than 10 hours a day seated.

Half do not leave their desks, even to have lunch.

Two thirds of people also sit down at home when they get home from work.

Spinal angles

The research was carried out at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Twenty two volunteers with healthy backs were scanned using a positional MRI machine, which allows patients the freedom to move - so they can sit or stand - during the test.

Our bodies are not designed to be so sedentary
Rishi Loatey, British Chiropractic Association

Traditional scanners mean patients have to lie flat, which may mask causes of pain that stem from different movements or postures.

In this study, the patients assumed three different sitting positions: a slouching position, in which the body is hunched forward as if they were leaning over a desk or a video game console, an upright 90-degree sitting position; and a "relaxed" position where they leaned back at 135 degrees while their feet remained on the floor.

The researchers then took measurements of spinal angles and spinal disk height and movement across the different positions.

Spinal disk movement occurs when weight-bearing strain is placed on the spine, causing the disk to move out of place.

Disk movement was found to be most pronounced with a 90-degree upright sitting posture.

It was least pronounced with the 135-degree posture, suggesting less strain is placed on the spinal disks and associated muscles and tendons in a more relaxed sitting position.

The "slouch" position revealed a reduction in spinal disk height, signifying a high rate of wear and tear on the lowest two spinal levels.

When they looked at all test results, the researchers said the 135-degree position was the best for backs, and say this is how people should sit.

'Tendency to slide'

Dr Waseem Bashir of the Department of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Alberta Hospital, Canada, who led the study, said: "Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness."

Rishi Loatey of the British Chiropractic Association said: "One in three people suffer from lower back pain and to sit for long periods of time certainly contributes to this, as our bodies are not designed to be so sedentary."

Levent Caglar from the charity BackCare, added: "In general, opening up the angle between the trunk and the thighs in a seated posture is a good idea and it will improve the shape of the spine, making it more like the natural S-shape in a standing posture.

"As to what is the best angle between thigh and torso when seated, reclining at 135 degrees can make sitting more difficult as there is a tendency to slide off the seat: 120 degrees or less may be better."

Seating positions

It is important to realize that this study is only testing the comparisons between the aforementioned positions.  Athough there is some interesting and importantly applicable information here, it does not study other options available to desk workers.  I do not disagree with (in fact I support) the information presented but what is only hinted at in this article is that to keep movement in the spine is essential.  Remember to keep the spine moving by doing simple range of motion exercises in a slow and controlled fashion.  These can be done while seated and include bending to the side, rotation, and tilting the pelvis forward and back. Do not combine rotational movements with bending forward or to the side.   Although it is not always practical in an office setting, another option is to use a large ball (65cm for most people) which ensures the spine and muscles are constantly working allowing the spinal discs to be nourished and stabalized.  As well, whenever possible, get up and stretch or go for a walk.  That may mean running errands like hand delivering a message to a co-worker or going to refill your water bottle on a regular basis (essential for healthy discs).
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