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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.


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