Sitting posture

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?

“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:

  • 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 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!

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!

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.


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83 thoughts on “Sitting posture”

  1. Hi Mark,

    Firstly let me just say that your blog is easily one of the most valuable sources of information I have encountered on the internet. I direct to it as many people who seem like they would benefit from it as I can – and benefit they do. So thank you. I am kind of stumped on one thing. When I am studying/working at a desk, walking, or standing, it is not too difficult for me to implement (or do my best at implementing) the posture corrections outlined in this and other posts. What about when I am just relaxing though, reading recreationally on the couch or watching a movie while sitting on an armchair? It seems that these types of furniture encourage poor posture, and make it difficult to correct yourself. Are there pieces of furniture that are comfortable/relaxing that do not have these qualities?

    Many thanks,

    Rath

    Reply
    • Hi Rath!

      Thanks for your comment.

      In the initial stages of addressing your posture, aim for a 20-30% improve in your posture.

      It is very difficulty to do a 100% correction right from the start! (A lot of tight muscles, weak muscles and bad habits will get in the way.)

      If you are relaxing in a chair, try to support your back with pillows. Try to keep your posture as elongated and as long as possible.

      (keep in mind – don’t feel bad if you start to slouch on the chair. Just make sure that you are stuck in this position for too long. Move every 20-30 minutes!)

      Mark

  2. Hi Mark!

    So happy to found your work here which is so helpful to me!
    I have a question: Some famous YouTubers in Germany promote their new
    “Paleo Chair” (https://paleomovement.de/) as an alternative to a common
    chair that is much healthier. Such a chair in combination with a
    standing desk is said to be the best possible solution for the workspace.
    What do you think about such a chair and given I can use a standing desk
    how long should one stand and how long should one sit and how often
    should one change posture?

    Would be so happy if you reply to my question. Thank you so much!
    Philipp

    Reply
    • Hey Philipp,

      I haven’t heard of the paleo chair before!

      It looks like an okay chair to me, but keep in mind, you can still slouch in this chair (just like any chair really!)

      In terms of how often you should switch between standing and sitting… I personally like to do any where from 30-60 minutes.

      Mark

  3. HI MARK …I AM HAVING BOTH SHOULDER BLADES PAIN WITH UNCONSCIOUSLY I HAVE INJURED THEM BY OVER USE..FROM YEAR NOW THAT WERE NOT FIXED BY ANY SPECIALIST.CAN U GUIDE ME TO OVERCOME THIS.IT WILL BE STIFF IN UPPER BACK ,SHOULDER BLADES ,TRAPS WHEN I GETUP FROM BED.AND ALL THE MOTION OF HANDS WILL BE NORMAL MOVEMENT BUT THE PAIN PERSISTS PLZ HELP OUT FROM THIS ..I USE TO GO TO GYM BUT BECOZ OF THIS I HAVE STOPPED COZ THAT LEADS MUSCLE OVER WORK AGAIN AGAIN.TIL NOW ITS YEAR BUT NTNG CHANGING IN THAT PAIN..MAIN PROBLEM IS MUSCLE GETTING CONTRACTION SO BLOOD FLOW IS NOT FLOWING PROPERLY IN THAT AREA SO GETTING STIFF..WHAT CAN I DO NOW.WHICH TREATMENTS GETS HELP ME OUT ..??

    Reply
  4. Hi, this site has been so helpful! I do have a question. When I consciously align everything where it should be, I find it very difficult to hold the proper posture for more than a few minutes. It starts to hurt and I have to slump a little just to relieve the pain, and then I try again and continue to do this repeatedly as my body fights the change.

    Are there any tips or things I could be doing to make this more bearable? Also, will it get easier?

    Reply
    • Hey Laura,

      Here are some quick pointers:

      1. You might need to try a smaller % of correction. Instead of trying to force your posture, try to correct it 60-70% and see how you feel. Over time – you can increase the correction.

      2. Your muscles aren’t used to this new position. Try to move in and out of the good posture. Give it some time and the body will become more comfortable with the new position.

      3. You might need to address other areas that might be making it more difficult to naturally hold good posture. Eg. You have may be trying to pull your shoulders back, but it might be the fact that you have thoracic spine kyphosis that is forcing them forward in the first place. To address the shoulder position, you will need to address the thoracic spine as well.

      Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks so much for the feedback, I appreciate it. The tips are very helpful, especially the first two tips as I have been trying to hold 100% full posture, so I will try a more gradual approach. I am not too familiar with the spine kyphosis you mentioned, so I’ll try to research more about that to see if there’s anything I can do in that regard as well.

      Thanks again,

      Laura

  5. Hey Mark,

    After some time sitting in the burmese position with my right leg in front and hips elevated in a seat I feel my right leg going numb (from the knee to the foot) and a pain in the right knee primarily (right at the outside of it). If I take the seat (hips not elevated) my pain goes to the left hip. I tried the rotated pelvis exercises but although they help they are probably not the real cause.
    My background is: an accident on my right foot (a long cut from the middle between second and third finger to the middle of my foot) which made me walk crawling with it (using primarily my left and scare of pulling the stiches when pressing the right, so stand more on my heel on that recovery time).
    After a year and done with the scar, I have done a lot of strenght training (without fixing my posture) which might have exarcebated the muscles on one side (like I have told on another post, a left lumbar with more mass than the right).
    What could I be working on to help with that?

    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    • Hi Gabriel,

      If your numbness is only from the knee down to the ankle, I would think that a nerve may be compressed in the Burmese position. (If I were to guess, I’d say between the calf muscles and/or popliteus region (behind knee).

      Try releasing and stretching these area before you go into the position and see if that makes a difference.

      Mark

    • Hey Mark,

      I tried it but I could not have any result. The numbness might be present at my upper leg also (to my sitting bone), but to a extent that it is not as intense as from the knee (which starts to be in pain in the lateral part of it).
      The reason might be in my posture overall, I do have a degree of scoliosis (maybe 10 to 20) with concavity to the right. And doctors do not understand that I have a scoliosis to one side but more weight to a side that does not make sense (I dont remember the sides right now). But I did walk a lot with my right foot (leaning on the left) crawling during recovery.
      Do you have any suggestion on the matter?

      Thank you.

    • Hey Gabriel,

      I have a blog post on Scoliosis. You can check it out here.

      You can also try to release/stretch the piriformis muscle as it sits right on the sciatic nerve.

      The “figure 4” stretch is great for a tight piriformis.

      Failure to respond to this, you might need to consider looking at your lumbar spine and how the nerves are up there.

      Mark

  6. Hi Mark! I tend to read a lot and also like to chill on the sofa/bed.. what are the best ways to do this without worsening my already bad posture? One needs downtime too, so suhgestions for relaxing but good positions when not sitting/standing/walking would be appreciated! Especially because I’ve had posture problems for so long it is really impossible for me to maintain the good sitting position 24/7 at the beginning..

    I have very short feet so I find chairs unergonomic for me, so i tend to sit on the floor whenever possible. How should one do this in the best possible way?

    Reply
    • Hi Henna!

      If you want to lie down whilst reading, the best way is to bring your book up to around eye level.

      If this feels a bit awkward, consider changing positions so that you are not stuck in one position for too long.

      If your feet don’t touch the floor whilst sitting, you will probably benefit from a foot rest.

      Mark

    • Thanks for the reply! Is reading lying on your stomach in a ”sphinx” position also ok? How about sitting on the bed legs straight but back against the wall?

      Footrest is a great solution for a fixed office job but I go t school and change classrooms often and I also have to use the public transport a lot (I have a very ling commute to school). A portable footrest feels difficult/over the top – are there any other solutions?

    • Hi Henna,

      The positions you mentioned are perfectly fine. Just keep switching positions if possible.

      Portable footrest is an option, but might prove more troublesome more than anything.

      Standing up during your commute on public transport can break up the monotony of sitting.

      If you don’t have a set work place, this might be a bit difficult! Perhaps you can store a foot rest in multiple rooms?

      Mark

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