Adopting the correct sitting position is essential for maintaining good posture and a healthy back and spine. Most people can improve their sitting posture by following a few simple guidelines.
Sitting with a straight back and shoulders can help prevent common complaints, such as lower back pain and a stiff neck.
Many people spend most of their day sitting down, as they tend to sit when commuting, working in an office, and studying or relaxing at home.
Prolonged sitting can cause various adverse health effects, including the misalignment of the musculoskeletal system, balance issues, impaired digestion, and reduced flexibility.
In this article, we look at good posture and explain the correct sitting position to achieve it, particularly when working at a computer.
Good posture means that the key parts of a person’s body are correctly aligned, with the right amount of support from muscle tension.
Correct posture can help by:
- reducing strain on the body during movement and exercise
- reducing wear and tear on the joints, muscles, and ligaments
- maintaining balance while moving and exercising
- reducing the risk of muscle strain and overuse conditions
- improving spine health
The authors of a 2019 article in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy state that “correct” posture may look different for different people. A comfortable posture for one person may be uncomfortable for someone else, so it is important to try out different sitting and standing postures.
People usually adopt a sitting posture subconsciously when focusing on other things. A person’s sitting posture depends partly on the sort of equipment they use, which may include:
- office chair
- ergonomic chair
- car seat
Types of sitting posture
- upright, with or without lumbar support
- one knee crossed over the other
- ankles crossed
- hunched forward
- slumped backward
- slouching to one side
- perched on the edge of the seat
The best sitting position depends on a person’s height, the chair they use, and the activity they are doing while sitting.
A person can improve their posture and achieve a proper sitting position by:
- keeping the feet flat or resting them on the floor or a footrest
- avoiding crossing the knees or ankles
- maintaining a small gap between the back of the knees and the chair
- positioning the knees at the same height or slightly lower than the hips
- placing the ankles in front of the knees
- relaxing the shoulders
- keeping the forearms and knees parallel to the floor where possible
- holding the elbows at the sides, creating an L-shape in the arms
- sitting up straight and looking forward without straining the neck
- keeping the back against the chair or using a backrest or cushion if there are places where the back does not comfortably meet the chair, especially in the lower back region
- avoiding sitting for extended periods, ideally taking at least a 10-minute break for every hour of sitting
- switching positions regularly
People who have to sit for extended periods at a desk because of their work or schooling need to take extra precautions to maintain a healthy posture and back.
When working at a computer for long periods, a person can help improve their sitting posture by:
- keeping the monitor at arm’s length and no more than 2 inches above the natural line of sight
- customizing workspaces — for example, adding footrests, wrist pads, or backrests
- using a standing desk to alternate between sitting and standing
- using an ergonomic chair, a yoga ball, or a knee chair
- trying out different keyboard and mouse types
- using a headset for long calls or dictating to reduce neck strain
- positioning the keyboard and mouse close together to avoid reaching
- getting up and moving around occasionally, especially when experiencing any muscle or joint pain
- sitting up straight and looking directly forward when reading mobile screens or monitors
Once in the correct position, a person can try doing a mental check every 10–15 minutes to see whether the posture has altered. They can make any necessary adjustments to restore their posture.
It is possible to improve posture with time, awareness, and commitment. The time it takes to see benefits depends on how consistently a person focuses on improving their posture and what their posture is like at the start.
Once a person has improved their posture, they will need to work at maintaining it. They may often have to remind themselves to recognize unhealthy positions and correct them.
Anything that causes a misuse or overuse of specific muscles, ligaments, or tendons can adversely affect a person’s posture and back health. Certain positions, especially some sitting positions, are worse than others for overworking or misusing postural tissues.
A person can minimize the risk of bad posture and back health by avoiding:
- sitting slumped to one side with the spine bent
- keeping the knees, ankles, or arms crossed
- dangling or not properly supporting the feet
- sitting for a long time in one position
- straining the neck for long periods while looking at a monitor, telephone screen, or document
- sitting for an extended period without taking a break
The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety also recommends that people avoid:
- sitting with the head tilted forward to prevent neck injury
- having the arms raised while working to help prevent shoulder and neck pain
- having an unsupported lumbar, which is the lower part of the spine between the ribs and pelvis
- sitting with bent wrists to help prevent muscle cramps
- having unsupported forearms to help prevent back and shoulder pain
- sitting with the thighs squashed under a table, which impairs blood circulation
- sitting in a position that does not fully support the back
Practicing good sitting habits is only one way to help improve posture and back health.
Every postural position and movement that the body makes involves or affects the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that help support posture. Some lifestyle factors that may not seem directly related to posture are crucial to overall postural health.
Everyday tips for a healthy posture and back include:
- exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week, focusing on a mix of stretching, strengthening, and aerobic activities
- lifting heavy objects by bending the legs rather than using the back
- keeping heavy loads close to the body when lifting or carrying them
- adjusting the seat when driving to support the back without straining and to allow the knees to bend
- placing lumbar support cushions on seats, including car seats, thus reducing lower back strain
- wearing comfortable, supportive, or orthopedic shoes when standing for long periods
- walking with a straight spine and trying to avoid slumping or leaning
- swinging the arms briskly and evenly when walking, jogging, or running
- keeping baby carriers at a level higher than the hips with stroller handles at bellybutton level
- alternating sides when carrying a baby for a prolonged period
- building up key muscle groups when away from the computer by doing squats, lunges, jumping jacks, shoulder shrugs, and pushups
Many people spend long periods sitting down. Sitting incorrectly, especially at a desk, can be bad for back health and posture.
However, by knowing what a good sitting posture looks like and following a few simple rules, most people can learn how to self-correct and thus achieve good posture.
Making additional lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and taking movement breaks throughout the day, can also help.