Ever since our school days, we have been told to “sit straight” and “fix our posture” by our parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. Sitting straight has been always thought out to be healthier since it reduces the displacement between your vertebrae and aligns the spine vertically in an aesthetic position, which makes perfect sense theoretically and logically, but not scientifically or practically.
What is the best way to sit at a desk?
Short answer: none
Long answer: most scientific studies in the past two decades failed to find a strong association between slouched sitting and musculoskeletal pain/injuries, or between relaxed sitting postures and pain/injuries compared to sitting straight or upright. However, the nails in the coffin of the “sit straight” misconception came in 2018 after a study showed that slouching can actually rehydrate our spinal discs, which debunks the misconception that we shouldn’t bend our lower back or slouch at work, then in 2019 a scientific review revealed how forcing ourselves to sit straight is not only inefficient, but may also be detrimental to our physical health.
The culmination of these scientific data suggests that there is no ideal sitting posture. How we sit is affected by multiple factors and is not an independent ergonomic scope that needs to be prioritized. For example, forcing yourself to sit straight on a bar stool while working may look aesthetic, but the fact that you lack lumbar support, arm rests, and probably a flat surface below your feet would suggest that this upright posture is going to be uncomfortable after few minutes of sitting and create avoidable neck and back pain. On the other hand, slouching while working comfortably on a properly designed workstation will probably not carry on any negative effect or health hazards, besides your work colleague being annoyed that you look naturally comfortable at work.
How should you sit at your desk?
First factor to consider when considering your sitting posture has nothing to do with the shape of your posture, but the time you spend sitting. Prolonged sitting has been repeatedly proven to be associated with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and metabolic disorders. Taking a movement break every 1-1.5 hours of sitting however can avoid being affected by these disorders, along with a physically active lifestyle.
The second factor to consider is the workstation design. Think of your sitting posture as the outcome of how your workstation is set and furnished, rather than a primary ergonomic concern. Having an ergonomic chair is crucial and it doesn’t have to be expensive at all (read here how to buy a full ergonomic office for the price of one branded ergonomic chair). Rather than believing that spending 500AED (140USD) on an ergonomic chair is unnecessary, think of how much rehab and medication costs you can save by investing in your workstation and preventive healthcare. This applies primarily on those who spend prolonged hours sitting and working on their computers; if your sitting time is already minimal and you are physically active, this advice may not necessarily apply to you.
The third factor to consider in ergonomic practices would be your workstation organization. Organizing your desk and workstation according to priorities and needs can save a lot of awkward postures, reaching, and sitting in uncomfortable positions for too long.
The fourth ergonomic factor to pay attention to is the tools and equipment you use. For example, laptop incliners are very helpful for aligning the screen with your eyes without having to bend your neck for prolonged time, but are very counterproductive for your wrists given that you will be forced to type with extremely extended wrists. Having an ergonomic keyboard can be an investment or a waste of money, same goes for the foot rest and document holder. Understanding where to invest in regards to your tools and equipment can maximize your ergonomic practices and your health at work, much more significantly than forcing yourself to sit straight.
Once these four factors have been addressed appropriately, you will notice that you are more likely to be comfortable in a range of sitting postures, in which you have the complete freedom over choosing how to sit. It’s about time to stop worrying and feeling continuously guilty over our sitting posture, just because society told us to.
Taking control over your health at work can be more practical and affordable than you may think. Book your free consultation session if you want our help to get you started.