What is a good sitting position at the office?

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what is the right way to sit

Are you working from home or an office? Are you sitting at your desk for most of the day? Research has shown that the average person spends approximately 10 hours a day sitting. So, how healthy is your sitting position, specifically when you are working in an office?

Too much sitting, and in particular poor sitting habits, will lead to a bad posture. A bad posture can result in increased stress in your spine, intervertebral discs and cause muscle tension in your lower back, neck and shoulders. 3 surprising risks of poor posture (Harvard Medical School).

In order to maintain a good posture and reduce potential health problems, it is important to know how to adjust your office chair to create a healthy sitting position.

The ergonomic features on your office chair are there for a reason, use them!

A healthy sitting position – what is the right way to sit?

1. Adjusting the seat height

When your chair height is correctly adjusted, both your feet should be flat on the floor and your knees should be slightly lower than the level of your hips.

what is the right way to sit? Office chair seat height adjustment for a healthy sitting position
Seat height adjustment
  • If the seat is too low, your knees will be higher than your hips, which increases the pressure in your lumbar discs. Furthermore, you will typically need to lift your arms to reach the work surface which causes muscular tension in your shoulders and neck.
  • If the seat is too high, your feet may not reach the floor (dangling feet), and you will then experience pressure in the back of your thighs. This may result in a sitting position where you are perched on the edge of the chair with no back support. If the height of your work surface is fixed, then use a footrest to prevent dangling feet.
adjusting the height of your office chair is important to maintain a good posture
Seat height adjustment
Left: Seat height is too low and angle of the elbows is less than 900. Forearms are not parallel to the floor.
Right: Seat is too high and angle of the elbows is greater than 900. Again, forearms are not parallel to the floor. The hunched back typically results in muscular pain in the upper back and shoulders.

2. Adjust the depth of the seat (seat slider)

Adjusting your office chair for a healthy sitting position
Seat depth (slider) adjustment

Not all office chairs have a seat slider. A seat slider allows you to move the seat pan backward or forward to suit the length of your thighs. If you are tall, a chair with this feature is highly recommended.

A good sitting position is when there is at least a 2-3 finger gap between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knees. This will prevent strain behind the knees, give optimal upper leg and under thigh support, and facilitate good blood circulation. A seat pan that is too long will cause you to sit on the edge of the seat with no proper back support.

The seat should also have a slight downwards curve in the front (waterfall front), to reduce the pressure on the back of your thighs.


3. Armrest adjustment

On an office chair, armrest height and width adjustment are essential for a healthy sitting position. When seated on the chair, your forearms should be parallel to the floor and your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees.

what is the right way to sit to create a good sitting position? Armrest height and width adjustment
Armrest height and width adjustment are essential for a healthy sitting position
  • Armrests that are too high or low can cause muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, arms and wrists.
  • Arm pads that move forward and backwards will allow you to sit closer to your desk. Your desk surface can then be used to support your forearms, wrists and hands.
  • Armrests that are width adjustable or where the arm pads can pivot inwards are an advantage. If the armrests are too far apart, they will not be directly under your elbows and forearms, and will therefore not provide the proper support and comfort.

4. Backrest angle

A chair that allows you to recline the backrest angle between 90 and 110 degrees is ideal. Sit with your back fully against the backrest.

The ideal sitting position is when the chair backrest is unlocked (free-floating), so that it moves with your body. This will ensure that it provides continuous support. Furthermore, tiredness will be reduced as your core muscles will be stimulated and blood flow improved.

Make sure that you adjust the spring tension in the backrest to match your body weight.  

what is the right way to sit on an office chair? backrest angle adjustment
Backrest angle adjustment

5. Lumbar support is critical for a good sitting position

An important feature for every office chair is a height adjustable backrest and/or adjustable lumbar support. Position the lumbar support so that it fits snugly into your lower back and keeps your spine in a neutral position.

lumbar support adjustment on an office chair
Lumbar support adjustment

6. Headrest

Not all ergonomic chairs have a headrest and not every person needs one.

A headrests supports your neck and shoulders when you want to relax or talk on the phone. The headrest should be positioned so that it supports head in it’s natural position, viz. the headrest must not push your head forward or allow it to fall backwards.

A headrest that is not suited to your height, can cause more harm than good. A headrest that is too low, may force you to hunch over and extend your neck forward. The forward angle of your head can result in tension headaches, upper back, shoulder, and neck pain. 


An unhealthy sitting position – how NOT to sit

how not to sit - common mistakes
How not to sit.

Don’t:

  • lean to one side – it can cause your spine to curve
  • hunch your shoulders – it may result in a forward head posture, neck strain, headaches and breathing difficulties
  • lift your shoulders – it can cause muscular tension in your neck and shoulders
  • sit forward without back support – the natural curve and alignment in your back won’t be supported
  • cross your ankles or knees – it can lead to constricted blood flow, increased blood pressure and cause varicose veins
  • let your feet dangle – it can cause constant pressure under your thighs and result in poor blood circulation and potential muscle pain.
  • keep your backrest in a fixed position – keep the backrest in a free-float position to continually stimulate muscles and blood circulation. This prevents lower back pain. If you have to keep your backrest in a fixed position for whatever reason, it is advisable to have your backrest in a slight recline.
  • sit for periods longer than 60 minutes without taking a break – sitting in a static position for a long time puts huge stress on your neck, spine and back muscles. When your body gets tired or you experience discomfort, get up and move around, have a tea break, go for a walk, or do some exercises.

Taking breaks or doing a short workout increases energy, productivity and creativity, while also reducing stress and possible burnout.


If you don’t have an adjustable office chair, consider purchasing one. A good ergonomic chair with adjustable features will allow you to create a healthy sitting position. This in turn, will improve your wellbeing, comfort and productivity. However this will only be the case if your chair is being used correctly!


Conclusion

In order to maintain a good posture, a healthy sitting position is important. Having a good ergonomic chair is useless if it is not adjusted correctly. Download our checklist to ensure that you have setup your chair in the right way.


Author: Ronel Hendry
Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd
16 Jan 2021 (rev 1)

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