Sitting posture

Before you read: Please have a look at this first. Find out the reasons why you should even consider fixing your sitting posture in the first place!

 

The alignment of the ideal sitting posture involves the body being optimally stacked over each other in a natural and relaxed manner.

Image courtesy of xe-pOr-ex] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here’s an analogy – do you remember that game called “Jenga”? Essentially, it is a game which involves a neat stack of blocks in which its stability is progressively challenged as players remove pieces of wood from its structure. This process continues to a point where the stack becomes too unstable and the structure collapses.

Like your posture, the structures in your body need to be stacked over each other in the most organised way to achieve ideal stability. Failure to accomplish this will result in the muscles and joints working overtime to maintain an upright position.

The alignment of the ideal sitting posture

The ideal sitting posture can be illustrated as a straight line through the ear canal, shoulder joint, thorax/ribs, pelvis and the hips. The aim of your sitting posture is to achieve as much symmetry as possible. Have a look below!

 

sitting posture

 


How do you know if you have good posture? Let’s do a quick test…

Stand up and stand your back to the nearest wall. You should be able to touch the back of your head, shoulders, bottom and ankles comfortably. If you can, well done, you have the potential to have good posture.

However, the question is: Can you maintain this right posture all the time whilst sitting? If you can’t, it’s time for you to do something about it now!

Note: Of course, this is a very general way of determining your posture. I strongly recommended getting assessed by a qualified health professional if you have any doubts. 


 

The ideal sitting posture

Let’s have an even closer look at how we should be positioning our body. I have devised this section into 7 separate areas, however, it is important to note that they are all interlinked and synergistic with each other.

Any change in one area will cause a chain reaction in the whole posture.

1.  Pelvis

Excuse the pun, but all good posture starts from the bottom up.

If your pelvis is not in the right position while you’re sitting, it is impossible to have good posture! It is the foundation as to which your posture is based on.

So… let’s get this started shall we?

pelvposition

“Mark, tell me how to position my pelvis properly?”

Good question!… The aim is to position the pelvis so that you are sitting directly on top of your “sit bones”.

How to do this:

ffr

  • Whilst standing, place your fingers on your bottom and locate your sit bones (see blue dots as above: they are the pointy parts of your bottom).
  • As you sit down, pull these sit bones away from each other.
  • Your pelvis should be tucked into the back of the chair and slightly tilted forward.
  • Distribute your weight evenly between both buttock cheeks and ensure that you do not lean to one side.

If you would like to know more on the correcting your pelvis position in sitting, check out this post: How to correctly position your pelvis in sitting.

 

2. Lower back

Maintain the natural curve in your lower back.

Remember – Not too much, but not too little.

The arch is directly linked to how you position your pelvis (as mentioned above). You should feel a very small amount of tension in your lower back at all times when sitting to ensure that your lumbar spine arch is supported.

Note: Make sure that you do not feel the tension in the middle back as this probably means that you are over arching!

tljn

Self assessment:  Whilst sitting down, touch the muscles on the side of your spine in the middle of your back (orange area in the above picture). They should be fairly relaxed and not overly tensed compared to the lumbar spine region (green area).

 

3. Thorax/Ribs

a) Your rib cage should feed directly into your pelvis.

People who tend to stick their chest out too much (for whatever reason) tend to be over extended in the lower/middle back. Stop puffing out your chest like that!

swayback

Self assessment:  Whilst sitting down, place one hand flat on your chest and the other on your pubic bone. Make sure your hands are parallel and in line with one another.

 

kyphosis

b) Your upper back should remain up right. Do not hunch your back! Don’t be lazy! Sit up straight!

Self assessment:   You should already know if you slouch or not. The question is: Are you willing to do something about it?

c) There should be no rotation or tilting of your thorax.

Self assessment:   Have a look in the mirror: Are your shoulders/nipples/collar bone/finger tips level? Do you have symmetrical waist creases? Is your belly button facing forwards? Or is it to the side? It is very common to have these sort of deviations in the thorax region and unfortunately many people fail to realise this!

 

4.  Shoulders

Your shoulders should remain relaxed in a wide and backwards/downwards position.

The ideal shoulder position can be achieved by:

1. Lifting your arms to the side (to the horizontal) with palms facing forward,

2. Gently pulling your shoulder blades in a backwards/downwards motion and

3. Keeping your shoulders where they are, let your arms drop back down by your side.

Self assessment: Drop your hands by your side. Are your thumbs pointing forward? People who tend to have hunched shoulders will have their thumbs facing inwards towards their body.

 

5.  Head

Front view:

arnietilt

Your head should sit naturally and symmetrically between your shoulders. There should be no tilting or turning of the head in this position.

Self assessment: Look into a mirror – Are your eyes/nose/mouth level? Can you see both ears clearly and equally? If not, your head is probably in the wrong position! If you are unsure, I find it easier to draw lines on a picture of your face. (Just like I did with my demo model, Mr. Schwarzenegger)

Side view:

Gently tuck your chin in. Your head should not poke forward.


Neck alignment

Self assessment:  Take a side view photo of yourself:The ear canal should approximately be in line with the middle of your shoulder joint.

As I see this poked neck position in almost all of the patients in the clinic, I have dedicated a full post to addressing this problem. Check out the post: Forward head posture correction to get that head of yours into the position its meant to be!

 


Note: The following are dictated by the chair that you sit on. Click here to receive my FREE ebook: How to set up your work station.

Ideal leg position

5. Hip position

The angle of your hip joint should be around 90-100 degrees.

6. Knee position:

The angle of your knee joint should be around 90-100 degrees.

7. Foot:

The angle of your ankle joint should be at 90 degrees. The foot should ideally remain completely flat on the ground.

 


“It’s never too late to start, but it’s much easier if you start now.”


 

Let’s run through a few questions that you may have:

 

// Why is it important to have good posture?

I have essentially outlined the reasons why at the post here: Start here.

But to put it simply: the body works at its best when in the ideal postural alignment. If you do not have good posture, then your body will be working much harder than it should. This will commonly lead to your typical symptoms like tightness and pain.

// I have had bad posture for a long time now, can it still be fixed?

Generally speaking, the longer you have had your bad posture, the harder it will be to influence any change. However, having seen many patients with longstanding postural issues, I have found that there is always something that we can improve on.

When addressing my patient’s posture, I strongly urge them to aim for progression and not perfection.

// Can one really achieve perfect posture?

Let me throw a question back at you.

Can one really be 100% perfect in anything?

The answer is no.

But there should be nothing stopping us from trying to achieve the best in ourselves. The closer we can resemble the “perfect posture”, the more we can be assured that our body is working at its best.

Doing the best with what you have is your relative perfection and is something that we all need to try to strive for.

 

 


Due to the immensity of problems that arise from bad sitting postures, I have the need to stress the urgency of fixing your posture. It would be crazy not to even consider it!

Please do not delay! Don’t be like those people who say, “some day I’ll fix it. Some day I’ll DO some exercises.” Some day… Some day… The time is NOW!

My goal with PostureDirect is to help you with your pain by providing simple ways to achieve your best possible posture for your body. I would love for you to check out these links to get you started on your journey.


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42 thoughts on “Sitting posture

  1. Dear Mark,
    I read your article and also the page you wrote about yourself. I really appreciate the job you’re doing. The reason I’m leaving you a message is that I want to know the standard places which should be taken into account in posture assessment, as an example, for assessing Q-angle what parts of the legs should be marked? I’d appreciate if you provide me with a reference which indicates the exact points of markings in both sitting and standing posture.

    Best regards,
    Danial

  2. Thank you, Mark. I am 62 years old, have thoracic back pain and lumbar back pain for the past 2 years.
    My MRI report says loss of normal kyptosis and lordosis

    My lumbar has been pain free for about a year, but the recent MRI indicates degeneration facet joint arthropathy, ligamentum flavum hypertrophy, mild spinal canal narrowing, dessicated discs at L4/L5/S1 and mild disk bulge at L5.

    I still suffer from my thoracic back pain, luckily alignment still intact, multiple facet joints arthropathy and ligamentum flavum hypertrophy.

    I hope I can be pain free with your posture guidelines, they are giving me the hope I need. Thank you again Mark.

    1. Hi Lee Hwa,

      Exercises are the key!

      Just remember – just because you have all those findings in your scans, does NOT mean you will have symptoms for the rest of your life.

      (In fact, if you take someone with no pain at all and scan their back, the results may come up with similar results as yours)

      Mark

  3. Hey Mark,

    Just found your Blog, there are some really god information.
    My issue is that i have rounded shoulder , anterior pelvic tilt, Duck feet and as a consequence hunchback posture. So i was wondering what can i do daily to fix for good my posture. ( I saw all your articles should i do kind of a sum up ?)
    Also i love going to the gym , and i want to know how can make my workout great for posture too , so i can align proprely my body while gaining some muscle.
    I’m willing to do anything for a good period of time to have a pretty quick fix.
    Therefore did you had a posture issue too ? When i will get a great posture (hopefully) should i do something to maintain it ?
    Thanks in advance for your answer
    Piece

    1. Hi Evil Ryu,

      If you have the time, try to do all of the exercises.

      If not , focus on one area for 6 weeks and see how your body responds.

      Unfortunately- there are generally no quick fixes when it comes to posture.

      With gym exercises, try to maintain good posture throughout your exercises (eg. avoiding rounding shoulders, excessively arching your back in benching press/shoulder press etc)

      Mark

  4. Hi Mark – i have read your blog and still dont really know what my problem is. Earlier in the summer, i started to develop this nagging pain under my left shoulder blade. I have seen the dr and Chiro both of them told me its my muscle and they are weak. I’m 40 years old and have had a desk job since i was 25. I see you are very experienced PT individual and wanted to get your opinion on it. The other day I used your technique of tennis ball against the wall. it helped me for 1 day or so and this am the pain was back. Its just this dull nagging pain. i started to get a bit of inflammation which i could feel around. since than i have been exercising 3x a week. not sure how long it is going to take to fix? and what exercises i should concentrate on? 🙁

  5. Hey Mark My name is Dibya and am from India. I broke both radius and ulna of left hand 2 years ago. Because of inactivity I developed severe APT and False curvature of legs Genu recurvatum. Very much worry about it. Help me as I have no idea about this. Eating for reply

  6. Thank you – great article. I’m working on correcting my posture after years of sitting at a desk with poor posture. I’m finding that good posture is leading to a tight and sore feeling in my inside upper leg on just one side (where it meets my body – the illiopsus?). Are there any exercises I can do to relieve this tension & pain and strengthen the muscles causing it?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Clare,

      What exactly have you changed in terms of correcting your posture?

      You may possibly be forcing good posture as opposed to letting it feel natural.

      Mark

      1. Thanks for your reply Mark. I followed your workstation set up advice – it’s brilliant thank you. So I have changed everything – desk layout, chair position, sitting position, taking breaks. I think I may have been forcing it too much to begin with, it’s definitely getting easier, and is no longer sore just not as comfortable/ easy as slouching!!

  7. Hi Mark,

    I’ve been reading all of your articles on posture. I can achieve much better sitting posture by consciously activating the underused muscles, for example activating my core and pulling my shoulder blades back and down. However, this feels awkward because I have to consciously focus on keeping these muscles active while I’m sitting. Is the solution to keep consciously activating these muscles until we eventually start to unconsciously maintain better posture? Or is it simply a matter of strengthening them until they begin to support us even when they feel relaxed?

    Also, how active should our abs and core be while sitting, standing, and walking? It feels sort of stressful to keep my abs consciously tensed during these activities, but if I don’t, then they’re not really active at all. Is it just a matter of strengthening them, or in the beginning do we need to consciously activate them throughout the day?

    Hope these questions are making sense. Thank you!!

    Jake

  8. Hi Mark,

    Great site and good work! Having followed all the advice on sitting after only 10-15mins my Lower back begins to fatigue and ache . I’m beginning to wonder the following;

    1) if I’m trying to sit up too stright could lumber spine hyperextension cause pain?
    2) when do you suspect core weakness as a cause of low back pain or a tight ileopsoas?

    Regards

    Adnan

  9. Mark, Forgot I have curvature of spine. Plus pelvic tilt. Lordosis. Obese. I didn’t care then, I do now, very much. My inches are leaving. Now work pelvic tilt. Weight off hoping will help.?????

  10. Mark, I’m 66 I’ve seen chiropractor for my hip, but it doesn’t stay, he said I have lordosis, I was overweight 260, now working on myself 220, I changed from within, I have weak urethra , just had operation on uterus polyps. I’d still like to correct my self,posture, pelvic tilt, Dr says lose weight it will help your pelvic area, my Dr says uterus is good for my age. I’m still working on my self to get better & feel better.

  11. Hey Mark, I saw you recommend the stretch lying from Esther Gokhale, so I was wondering if you also agree with her way of sitting (stretch sitting)? What I found interesting is that she recommends a J spine, instead of an S spine (because our ancestors had J spines), so therefore she is also against lumbar support and stuff like that. But I see you ARE recommending a lumbar support. Can you please share your thoughts on that?

    Another question: I have kyphosis (rounding shoulders) ONLY when I sit, NOT when I’m standing. Always when I’m sitting my neck pain and headaches get worse (even though I’m sitting with perfect posture). How can I fix this? Would you fix it the same way you would fix “normal” kyhphosis?

    1. Hi Alen,

      Great question!

      Both stretch lying and sitting are the ideal ways! This is to get as much elongation and length in the spine in a stacked position.

      Lumbar support is great when you tend to sit with a posterior pelvic tilt. Using the lumbar support is more for the treatment of issues associated with this way of sitting. (such as posterior disc bulges)

      Ideally, one would be better to learn how to sit with out any support and to aim for a more elongated spine.

      With your rounded shoulders/kyphosis whilst sitting, are you able to correct it ? Or is it something that happens immediately when you are in the seated position?

      Mark

      1. Hey Mark, thanks for your message man! Well I’m working hard on correcting it by implementing all your exercises (and others), but I just notice as soon as I’m sitting down for a while (I’m a student) with good posture, I get this tension in my neck (where it attaches to the head) and it reflects pain above the eyes and jaw, I’ve had it for almost 2 years now, and nobody was able to help me, so I decided to take it into my own hands and improve my body posture DRAMATICALLY. I also got an MRI done, everything looks good (nothing is deteriorated, but I have a straightening of the neck curve). Do you think it could have something to do with the straight neck curve? Do you think your exercises can help to REVERSE the normal neck curvature? Or what would you do in this case? I’m a 24 year old student, I’m way too young for this, I hope there’s a solution, I’m willing to do everything it takes.

          1. Thanks for your answer Marc! What do you think about those posture blocks than you can put under your neck that are supposed to reverse a straightened neck curve back to normal? There are some posture blocks or even devices (like posture pump) that you can lay on for 10-20min. Do you think that’s useful IN ADDITION to the exercises? Also some people recommend to force in the neck curve with specific exercises and laying postures like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7qeWyG1K4o

            Do you think that’s useful or dangerous?

            Thanks for everything you do,
            Alen

          2. Hi Alen,

            The posture blocks where your neck is on top of are fine to use.

            The exercises on the video are fine to do providing that you keep that chin tucked in more (on that second exercise in the video). I wouldn’t force the movement, but would firmly guide it into position.

            Once again, if it makes any of your symptoms worse, I would re-consider your technique.

            Mark

          3. Thanks for your responses Marc 🙂

            I’m still kinda confused about the stretching and the releases. Because in my mind, the muscles are tight for a REASON, it’s necessary tension to keep the head level. So why would you want to loosen those muscles, isn’t that going to make the head fall even more forward (given, that’s it’s necessary tension)? Isn’t it a better idea to first strengthen everything and THEN start to stretch the tight muscles? I’m asking this, because my chiropractor told me I’m hypermobile, and that my tissue is very “elastic”, so he said I had to primarily strengthen everything in order to be able to hold good posture for hours at a time, and that stretching might not necessarily be a great idea (but he didn’t say it’s bad neither). What are your thoughts on that? And what do you suggest for hypermobile people?

            BTW: Do you offer any consulting?

            Thanks dude!

          4. Hey Alen,

            If you have no tight muscles, then there is no need to stretch. However – if you do stretch and/or release a muscle, you need to follow that by activating/strengthening another muscle that is meant to be functioning in the first place. Otherwise – the tight muscles becomes tight again.

            In your case of hypermobility, your main focus will indeed be to strengthen all of your weak muscles to stabilise your body.

            Note- just because you are hyper mobile in some areas, does not mean you may not be tight in other areas.

            Mark

            Also – I don’t do consults at the moment. But – that may change if the demand is there 🙂

          5. The thing is that I’m not actually sure if my muscles are tight. My neck and facial muscles (jaw and above eyes) FEEL tight, but like I said, I’m hypermobile so I already have more range of motion than the normal person in the neck. So that’s why I wasn’t sure if it’s a good idea to stretch. It kinda feels like I have band wrapped around my head sometimes, so I was thinking it could also be myofascial pain from tigger points (SCM or occipitals) or stemming from the fact that my neck curve is straigthened out (I’m working on this). What do you think?

          6. Hi Alen,

            It sounds like your are describing “tension” and not structural tightness.

            Elongated muscles usually have a lot tension going through it (eccentric load) and can feel “tight”.

            If this is you, I would focus on strengthening through your full range.

            Mark

  12. Hi Mark,

    My x-rays at the chiropractor today show how horribly incorrect my neck is…I have to do something about it. I’m a headache sufferer, usually in the afternoon after sitting at work all day. I just read your page on forward head posture. I’ll be doing those exercises to try to correct. BUT I also have horrible posture and curvature of my spine causing my hips to be out of alignment as well. I’m 29 and have always had bad posture. I sit all day and find it very difficult to sit in the correct sitting posture as you described above…it’s not very comfortable! I cross my legs constantly, prop my feet up, etc. to try to get comfortable. Do people really sit in the above position all day long?! How?! Thanks for all the great information!

    1. Hey Richelle,

      In the ideal world, you should maintain proper posture all of the time.

      Is this realistic for most people? …Absolutely not.

      To begin with, I recommend aiming to sit for 20 minutes with good posture in every hour. Then slowly increase it as your body’s posture improves.

      For someone who has had bad posture for many years, it is quite difficult (and even uncomfortable) to maintain good posture. This is because your body is not used to using your postural muscles.

      Do what you can. Better to do something than nothing at all.

      Mark

  13. Hi Mark,
    I have ankylosing spondylitis (for 8 years now) which affected my posture.. I have a curved back and a forward head. What exercises would be good for me? Thanks.
    Dex

  14. Hi Mark, I seem to be suffering from posterior pelvis tilt and bulge disc at L4 L5. What kind of exercises should I do for myself ? If you can help me out I would really appreciate it.

  15. Hello Mark, I seem to be suffering from anterior pelvis tilt and kyphosis as my lower back arched and the middle is rounded forward, how do I fix both? How many excersies would be suffice for both the issues and how long should should I do it ? I bessech that you help me Mark as this posture gas affected my self confidence

  16. This is a really great post about posture covering a variety of aspects. As we are advocating for student posture, we know that students often have to sit for long periods of time and can form bad posture habits. Many students ask about whether we can achieve perfect posture or not and we agree with you – we can only provide an ideal position for sitting and standing, but being more conscious of how one sits and making an effort to change is what can make a difference.
    J.T

    1. Hi J.T.
      Great to hear from someone who sees the importance of good posture! I see so many students (especially from university) coming to see me with a whole lot of pain from the poor sitting posture they adapt whilst studying.

      It’s outstanding to see that you are advocating for student posture!

      Mark

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