Imagine I was running a quiz on ideal sitting posture at a computer. I bet you would do pretty well. I expect you would know that your screen should be at a set height, that the angle between your arm and forearm should be a certain size and perhaps even that your feet should be supported by some sort of rest if you are short in stature like myself! Chair type and position? Well, that could be the subject of a 'quick fire round' all in itself. If I were offering extra points I bet you could even sketch an image of the cartoon man sitting in this perfect position at work achieving all the correct angles at all times.
Phew!… exhausting isn’t it? And these ergonomic recommendations are made by many ‘health websites’. You just have to google ‘correct workplace posture’ for a wealth of information. One website I looked at recently even suggested doing a mental check of your position every 10-15 minutes and then correcting the posture if it had altered. I mean, you’d be lucky if you got any work done after all this, wouldn’t you?
But if this is the universally recommended advice for achieving good posture and therefore reducing back pain then it makes sense, right? Well, actually no. Research shows that there is little to no association between posture and back pain. Really, you could balance War and Peace on your head for an entire day and it would make no difference to your back pain. (It might hurt your neck a bit though). In one systematic review by Roffey et al 2010 the authors concluded the following:
“There was strong evidence from six high-quality studies that there was no association between awkward postures and LBP.”
This was one of several reviews that all showed similar findings. So, why do we point the finger of blame at the slouchy demeanour? Most likely (as with many conditions) because people with back pain often have so-called poor posture it is assumed that poor posture is the cause. However, the fact that many more people have poor posture and no back pain is often ignored.
Then does this mean we can sit hunched over our keyboard for hours and hours and not expect any ill effects? Well no, I’m afraid not. But rather than blaming posture, the issue is more with the length of time you sit immobile. Bodies love movement and to keep your body healthy and moving well it is a good idea to move often. The best physical therapist answer I’ve heard to “what is the best posture?” is “your next posture” i.e. MOVE!
Usually with a bit of thought you can build small changes into your day such as:
Drinking good amounts of water so you are at least walking to the loo regularly!
Offering to get up make tea for others?!
Using stairs not lifts
Implementing walking meetings
Definitely NOT eating lunch at your computer!
These are all simple things that I know you know but perhaps it helps to have a reminder?
Finally, I should say that I am not against a nice upright posture in principal. It looks better and being upright does indeed make you feel more positive. If you want a good posture a simple way to achieve this is by relaxing into an upright position. Not forcing it. I have had a small taster of the Alexander Technique (AT) in the past and I think this is an excellent way of achieving a natural, upright position. In fact, I often recommend a useful AT position to patients – the semi supine - to help encourage a more relaxed, open posture. Check it out here: https://alexandertechnique.co.uk/learning-it/semi-supine
So, whether you slouch or not makes no difference to your back health but making tea for your colleagues will.... Black, no sugar please!
Roffey et al (2010) Causal assessment of awkward occupational postures and low back pain: results of a systematic review. The Spine Journal Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 89-99