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Sitting Upright...Not So Good for Your Back

Back pain is the most common complaint of office workers in the US. And go figure, the problem might just be their perfect posture.

In a recent study, 22 healthy volunteers had their spines scanned with an MRI while sitting in 3 different positions. The position causing the least amount of undue stress on the vertebral disks was a relaxed position, with 135 degrees between the top of the thighs and the spine. Sitting upright, with the excellent posture our mothers and/or ballet teachers drilled into our heads, created the most stress on the vertebral disks, even more than the position of having a 70 degree angle between the legs and spine. I would have to argue though, that slumping forward with a rounded spine is worse than sitting upright. Slouching forward stretches the ligaments that structurally support the spine and keeps the muscles that should support the spine in a stretched position so they can not functionally help stabilize your vertebra.

This image from a BBC News article illustrates the positions best. Do note: In all positions the participants have back support and both feet on the ground (just in case you want to experiment with your work station).

Fit's Two Cents: I think that we just aren't really made to sit 10 hours a day like many of us do. We evolved as a species to be hunter-gatherers, which means walking around a lot and squatting (no chairs forcing our spines into a 90 degree angle from our legs) when we needed to take a load off our spines. So walking around as much as you can during the day is always a good idea. Your back will love it, and chances are, your mind will to.


Join The Conversation
raptinrainbows raptinrainbows 10 years
fit, i agree with you re the hunter-gatherer aspect. so much of the cultural and technological "progress" we've made as a species just plays hell with the bodies we've developed over the millenia.
krisua krisua 10 years
REALLY??? I've heard all my life how sitting relaxedly is bad for my back so I've developed a very upright sitting position by now. And after all this trouble...!
brielleblonde brielleblonde 10 years
now wen i see all those "gangsta's" driving their cars riding like position #3, I won't laugh anymore.
rubialala rubialala 10 years
Huh, I have always sat like the first and second looks and my husband always sits like the third and I'm like you shouldn't sit like that and now I'm proven wrong. Shhh, don't tell him!
wackdoodle wackdoodle 10 years
That is interesting. Don't those ergo charts and "ergo specialists" in offices always come in and set your chairs so your sitting at less than 70 degrees or 90 degrees? At least they did to me when I was office bound 5 years ago. Then I discovered the switch on my chair that let me flip it back to where I had it before "laid back swivel mode". Good for doing leg lifts.
pinupsweetheart pinupsweetheart 10 years
Wow. Now I have a reason to not sit up straight when my grandmother tells me to!
BeautyXRush BeautyXRush 10 years
Well I guess I sit the correct way, good to know.
jhuck jhuck 10 years
I've sat like that for years and everyone has always told me I sit badly. To them I say HA!
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