The Ergonomic Debate: Sitting Straight vs Slouched

According to research by AXA, Brits spend on average 9 hours of their working day seated. That’s not taking into account those of us who sit during our commute and during the evenings when at home. With this amount of time spent sitting, ergonomics has never been a hotter topic.

Up until recently, we were led to believe that maintaining an upright posture when seated at a desk is best for our spinal health. However, research has since shown that taking on a more slouched position can be better for us. Here’s what you need to know.

‘Sit up straight’ – a myth?

Sitting up straight is something that’s instilled in us from childhood. We’re taught that maintaining a straight, upright posture is the most ergonomic way to sit. Thus, preventing back pain and other spinal issues further down the line. But is this true?

Since being seated at a desk has become a way of life for many, studies into desk ergonomics have increased over recent years. Scientists and physiotherapists are eager to uncover the optimum seating position for adults.

In 2006, Canadian and Scottish researchers found that sitting straight is bad for backs. Their findings came from MRI scans which demonstrated how an upright posture when seated can place unnecessary strain on the spine.

They concluded that the optimum position when seated at a desk is leaning back at a 135° angle. This looks like a slouched position but can prove healthier for the spine with less direct strain.

How exactly is ‘slouching’ better than an upright posture?

A further study conducted by the University Hospital of North Tees found that slouching can reduce back stiffness by enabling more fluid to pass between our spinal disks.

A study by the RNSA also found slouching to be better for us. They reported that when sat upright in a 90° angle, spinal disk movement is at its highest which can cause disk material to misalign and lead to back pain.

Are there any downsides to slouching?

As many of us sit at a desk for seven hours or more each day, too much of one thing can be bad for us. Whilst slouching has been found to reduce the risk of back complaints, it shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

The NHS warns that bad posture can lead to curvature of the spine, known as kyphosis.

Sitting in a slouched position for too long can also lead to upper back and neck pain which has been linked to headaches.

What’s the solution?

When it comes to finding our optimum seating position, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. What works well for the person next to you may cause you pain so it’s important to recognise this.

Australian researchers came to a compromise and concluded that no one permanent position is good for prolonged periods. They, therefore, suggested that a combination of slouching and sitting straight is better than maintaining one set posture.

It’s all about finding what works best for you. Identifying when something doesn’t feel right and acknowledging when it does. Office furniture has come on leaps and bounds in recent years meaning that we’re no longer restricted to a chair. Many people have taken to using standing desks whilst others prefer kneeling chairs.

Remember that a sustained posture over a long period of time is never beneficial so be sure to move around when possible. If you have an activity tracker, set it to buzz every 30 minutes or so, reminding you to get up from your desk and move around. Make sure you take a break for lunch and try to go for a walk when possible.

There are plenty of back exercises you can do at your desk too, so try and incorporate them into your daily routine.