Leaning Back is Good For Your Back – Do Not Sit Up Straight, Slouch!

Diagram to show correct posture to avoid back painFor as long as I can remember, people have said that you should sit up straight to avoid getting a bad back. However, I have always found sitting slightly reclined to be more comfortable, and in my 11 years of office work, the only time I have ever had a bad back was after performing some clean and presses (a weight training exercise) without warming up thoroughly.

Recent research at the Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland, has now shown that a reclined position is in fact better for you than sitting up straight. Sitting up straight is actually more likely to lead to back problems.

According to the British Chiropractic Association 32% of the population spends more than 10 hours a day seated. This is the combined time of sitting while commuting to work, sitting down at work, then sitting again once home to eat and watch television. 50% of office workers do not leave their desks all day, not even to eat lunch.

Researchers used a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show that sitting up straight places an unnecessary strain on your back. They told the Radiological Society of North America that the best position in which to sit at your desk is leaning slightly back, at about 135 degrees.

The researches studied a group of people with healthy backs, split them into three groups – one group slouched forward, the other sat up straight, and the third reclined.

The researchers then took measurements of spinal angles and spinal disk height and movement across the different positions. Spinal disk movement occurs when weight-bearing strain is placed on the spine, causing the disk to move out of place – such injuries are not uncommon in weight lifters.

Disk movement was found to be most pronounced with a 90-degree upright sitting posture. It was least pronounced with the 135-degree posture, suggesting less strain is placed on the spinal disks and associated muscles and tendons in a more relaxed sitting position. The “slouch” position revealed a reduction in spinal disk height, signifying a high rate of wear and tear on the lowest two spinal levels. When they looked at all test results, the researchers said the 135-degree position was the best for backs, and say this is how people should sit.

So slouching foward is still not good for you, but sitting back is!

Rishi Loatey of the British Chiropractic Association said: “One in three people suffer from lower back pain and to sit for long periods of time certainly contributes to this, as our bodies are not designed to be so sedentary.”

Levent Caglar from the charity BackCare, added: “In general, opening up the angle between the trunk and the thighs in a seated posture is a good idea and it will improve the shape of the spine, making it more like the natural S-shape in a standing posture. As to what is the best angle between thigh and torso when seated, reclining at 135 degrees can make sitting more difficult as there is a tendency to slide off the seat: 120 degrees or less may be better.

So, slouching back is good, forwards not, and sitting upright will damage your spine. So next time you feel a little back pain at work, recline your chair a little. If you boss says anything, remind him of the huge number of working days lost due to back pain each year, and tell him that you are just ensuring that you back stays in good shape.


Sitting straight ‘bad for backs’ –  BBC Health News, Tuesday, 28 November 2006.


9 Comments on “Leaning Back is Good For Your Back – Do Not Sit Up Straight, Slouch!”

  1. AHA! I have always thought that! If I sit up straight for too long I get back pain. I find I need to sit back…and also have my feet up in order to be comfortable.

  2. MotleyHealth says:

    Yep, same here. I always have my feet up too. Putting your feet up takes the pressure off the back of your legs and this helps maintain good circulation.

  3. This may take pressure off the disk in the back but it loads the disk in the neck. It also creates major stress of the muscles of the neck that are not meant to be used to hold your head up (SCM). This will lead to disfunction of the neck and shoulder muscles over time. This increases your chances for headaches and neck spasms in the short term and arthritis in the long term.

    The only solution to preventing back pain AND neck pain is to get up every 20 minutes. Longer than 20 minutes in one position causes something called crepitus to occur in your ligaments. This is a permanent stretch to the ligament leading to greater instability around the spine. Instability leads to many problems.

    Getting up and changing positions every 20 minutes will not only prevent crepitus but also help greatly with your cardiovascular system. A recent study found that people who sit for 8 hours during their careers had an average life span several years shorter…regardless of how much physical exercise they did!!

  4. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Ryan, I guess the main question is, which is worse to suffer, back or neck pain? Office work is part of our society now and few companies will provide people the opportunity to get up every 20 minutes to loosen up a little. Do you have any references for the studies on the neck problems caused by slouching?

  5. This posture will certainly put overdue load on the neck. It will also lead to you not using any muscles of the low/mid back to sit up. The longer you don’t use these muscles the weaker they become and the more liekly you are to see a worsening of your back problems.
    Another solution; if you sit so that your knees are lower than your bottom you should find yourself sitting up correctly without thinking about it. The added bonus of doing it this way is that you are using your spinal muscles.
    What is important to point out is each spine is different and therefore will react differently in different postures. If you wish to sit leaning backward you will need your computer screen to be in line with your eyes (up very high) so your neck is not forward. You will also need to make sure you are doing spinal & core strengthening exercises when you are not at work.
    Lastly, Ryan’s suggestion of breaks every 20 minutes is not to stop work it is to MOVE. Stand up for 3 seconds and grab something from the printer!

  6. My issue is I have VERY tight neck muscles and pain. I cant seem to figure out the best posture for neck pain. I have moved my monitor high/low. I have reclined/sat 90 degrees. I don’t seem to get relief and I have a very expensive Embody chair. Not sure what the issue is really. I actually seem to be fine at a coffee shop for hours looking down at my laptop, but as soon as I get to my office with the big 20 inch plus monitors I feel pain. I almost feel like I have rounded shoulders and slouch, but to look at the monitor I tilt my chin and it fires up the neck. Maybe that is why I feel fine looking down. Not sure, but would love some advice.

  7. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Robert, really you should speak with a physio or other medical professional who can examine you and guide you. Have you ever tried any neck exercises? Maybe the problem is also from lack of movement. Or just too much VDU usage.

  8. I feel like I have symptoms of Trapezius Mylagia. Should I raise my armrests to rest when typing and mousing?

  9. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Robert, good ergonomics should help, but really it is best to consult a physio.

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