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.


… Interested in fixing your posture? Sign up to get the latest updates:

[newsman-form id=’4′ horizontal]


83 thoughts on “Sitting posture”

  1. Hey Mark

    Indeed a great article you have shared here. I’m working from home and by sitting for around 8-9 hours daily, I used to have pain in my lower back. But now I think, this article will help me cure my back pain problem. Thank you very much…

    Reply
  2. Hello Mark,
    I have pain primarily in my left hip (especially when sitting and sometimes I feel the right leg go numb after a while in the burmesse position). I also look to have more mass in my left lumbar than in the right (seems that in my chest too) and it is harder to feel my right lumbar. It seems that I have a rotated disc and although I have been going through postural reprogramming the doctor says he does not know if he will be capable of doing the work. I sent you in the pictures of the X ray through facebook and I would like to know what you have to say about the subject because it is really important for me, it impacts a lot of the things I do and enjoy to work on so anything you have to say that can help I will try to put on my routine.
    Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    • Hello Mark,

      Thank you very much for the reply. It does seem that I have a left rotated pelvis. I will work on the exercises (for my side) on the post!

      Thank you for all the work and help you provide!

  3. Hi Mark
    I am suffering from slip disc. Can u please guide me how to get rid of this. I am feeling very low as I can’t play or do lift weight and other stuffs.

    Please guide
    Sahil Suri

    Reply
    • Hi Sahil,

      If you have a posterior disc bulge in your lumbar spine, you can try McKenzie Lumbar spine extensions.

      Do not push deep into your pain. It should feel comfortable.

      Mark

  4. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for making good content and replying to your readers!

    Few questions I think others will find helpful too:

    – How can someone detect the difference of nerve vs back pain from muscle? I have pain in center of my mid back and when breathing in it gets worse. While I’m active it’s better, but I had trouble sleeping last night.

    – My right shoulder blade leans a bit forward compared to my left side. It’s especially obvious as I lay on the flat floor. I try to flex my back straight but it’s always hard to keep this position for long. How can I specifically fix the uneven shoulder blade issue?

    – Lastly, I also believe I have a slight case of lumbar lordosis that I’ve been working on fixing with pelvic tilts, hip thursts, planks, and stretches. I also lay against the wall and after moving my feet away from the wall, I lower myself till the lower back touches the wall for 1 minute. I also try to get in the habit of inhaling stomach to straighten my spine while popping my chest out slightly. How does this all sound? (also would it potentially fix some of my other issues?)

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Hello Arsh,

      – Nerve pain tends to have symptoms such as burning sensation, weakness/loss of control of muscles and tingling. If your pain is quite localised, it is probably a joint/muscle issue,

      – It could be that you have a rounded shoulder.

      – This exercise is fine to do

      Mark

  5. Hi Mark,
    While sitting , a region somewhere in the middle of the glutes and the hamstrings pain.( or probably the muscle which connects it ), though I sit normally. I do not have any burning sensations.
    The pain gets worse with time. So what could be this ??

    Reply
  6. i am curious as to how sitting on a toilet for long periods of time can affect you. some people have digestive problems, and may end up sitting on the toilet for a long time. it’s hard to sit straight on a toilet

    Reply
    • Hi,

      The time you spend on the toilet is unlikely to be as long as you would sitting in front of a computer, watching tv etc. For this reason, it should not influence your posture significantly.

      However- whilst on the toilet, you actually want to sit with a bit of posterior pelvic tilt to help with the process.

      Mark

  7. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for the great post, it helps me a lot to remember correcting my posture when I am sitting on my desk with my laptop. Still, I cant figure out the correct way to sit while writing with a pen on an actual paper on my desk. It is like I *have to* curve my body or lean forward to be able to write. Could you maybe describe the correct way? Or am I missing something?

    Reply
    • Hi Lydia,

      This a great question.

      I personally like to remain as elongated throughout my spine as I write.

      Make sure that you do not have vision issues which may require you to get closer to the paper to see what you are writing as this will force your body to lean forwards.

      On top of that, make sure that the table that you are writing on is at an appropriate height for you.

      Hope these tips help you out!

      Mark

  8. Dear Mark > I have same problem (sway back posture)…. I am from Pakistan. I am in trouble with this problem please solve my problem to give me your email address and phone no… i will contact you personally and tell you full detail please solve my problem…. My age is 22..Please help me

    Reply
  9. Dear Mark,

    I know you are probably very busy, so thank you for this website (and I understand if you are not able to respond to this message).

    I have seen 8 providers and 4 PTs for debilitating upper back and neck pain. By the end of a workday (as a lawyer at a desk, with a standing and sitting desk), I am in 9/10 pain and sometimes cannot even converse with others my pain is so severe. The pain seems to come after being in a compromised position for only a short time. In other words, if I go for a 10 min car ride or work at my desk for 20 min, the pain arrives and will not leave. On the other hand, if I hike all day or am upright, my pain is a 2/10. When the pain arrives (shortly after waking), my upper back hurts (near the spine on both sides), my neck muscles spasm and I get a referring pain in my right temporal region. When I run, the pain ceases and if I lay on my back on an acupressure mat, the pain ceases – if only momentarily. The second I compromise posture, the pain is severe. Posture, weak muscles, skeleton and stress.. I often struggle to understand which is the main culprit if not all are contributing factors……

    I have read through all your posts and incorporated many of your techniques and exercises–I have not seen any improvement yet. I have a couple questions if you have time to address any of them, I would greatly appreciate it.

    1. Stretch v. strengthen– many PTs have told me to do one or the other (initially) and or both. I am confused as to which I should focus on.

    2. Posture shirts? I ordered a posture shirt and jacket from allignmed. What are your thoughts on these?

    3. Massage therapy?

    4. Trigger point injections do not seem to help. Thoughts on same?

    5. What would be your other recommendations?

    6. If you were to recommend orthotics (understanding this is not the first stop), what brand do you like?

    7. Any providers you might recommend near (anywhere close) to St. Louis or the Midwest?

    Thanks again for your time,
    Jordan

    Reply
    • Hi Jordan,

      1) If tight muscles is the main issue, stretch first. If you have weak muscles, do strengthening.
      If you are both tight and weak, you will need to do BOTH!

      2) Posture shirts, taping and braces will help pull your shoulders back, however, they will tend to make your postural muscles lazy if worn long term. They are fine to be worn short term and serve as a reminder to maintain good posture.

      3) Massage therapy is great to help relieve some of your symptoms. You will need to follow up with strengthening exercises after wards for best results.

      4) Trigger points may provide some relief, but it will be temporary. If anything, you will need to find out WHY you are developing trigger points in the first place.

      5) Make sure your work station is appropriately set up to your individual measurements.
      Try not to stay still for more than 15 minutes. MOVE MOVE MOVE!
      Ultimately – it sounds like you need to get stronger in your postural muscles.

      6) I rarely prescribe orthotics as I prefer to try exercises first. I do not have a specific brand that I suggest.

      7) I am not from around there so I unfortunately can’t recommend anyone for you.

      Sounds like you need some help! Please feel free to facebook message me and I’ll see if I can provide value to you.

      Mark

  10. Thank you so much for all this material. Although I am very fit and toned my body has been a hot mess for quite some time starting with a grade 2 shoulder separation 2 years ago contributing to bad muscle habits and chronic scapular pain. Most recently, I have had sharp thumb, wrist and finger pain and swelling. This put me in immediate contact with a physio who alerted me that my posture needs some reworking with concentration on my c6,c7. So whilst doing exercises for my c6 & c7 I was searching online for more info on my shoulder blade and after 1 day of doing 3 of your exercises things are looking more hopeful. I still have tons of work to do with the physio in my City/Country but I am so grateful for all this information because it gives additional support and helps to assuage fears associated with chronic pain because there is a science behind it and something can be done, with work and dedication. After I get my C6 & C7 by working on my posture I have to attend to my lower back. So much work to do!

    Reply
  11. Hi Mark,

    thanks for your posts and the effort you put in them. Great job.
    I’m suffering from migraine for years now, and I feel like the cause is my neck pain. I can literally feel the pain coming from the muscles of my neck. What I’ve also noticed is a pain between my shoulderblade and my spine when I pull my shoulders back. I also think that the pain’s reason might be my sleeping position (among others ofc). I slept on my stomach/side (some kind of mixture) for years now, but I can’t bring myself to sleep on the back. Do you have any excersises or general tips? I’d be forever thankful.

    Andrew

    Reply
  12. 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

    Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

  14. 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

    Reply
    • 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

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.